Last month, 12th March to be precise, I watched No More Sex Please by Ellis Otieno at Alliance Française and I was quite please to see yet again, an original Kenyan script being played to a full house (silencing the cynical part of me that suspected that the full house may have been due to the mention of ‘sex’ in the title).
It was a good attempt at a full-length play, though lacking in plausibility. Don (Sam Psenjen) takes it surprisingly well when his wife Jane (Celina Njoki), who has caused their business to loose thirteen million shillings, admits to him that she is having an affair and thereafter leaves him to pursue a career in music as he spends his time pining for her. After a long while, she comes back, having earned twenty seven million dollars- if my memory serves me right- in royalties from her new album. She is also pregnant because it turns out that the scene that Don (and the audience) thought was a dream, was not, and she did conceive.
Otieno addresses the issues that challenge modern marriage but it would have been nice to see characters and situations we can identify with.
The play started well and the script seemed to flow well but Njoki, who played Jane, was particularly under-rehearsed. At one point I was certain that she had completely forgotten her lines and that Psenjen made up for it.
Psenjen who I have seen doing far better performances did not seem in his element either. His energy was low and this slowed down the pace of the play, which seemed to slug on forever. In fact, as the play wore on, the audience became restless and some people walked out during the numerous scene changes.
It is often said, and quite rightly, I think, that if a play is good, the actors take the credit but if it is bad, the director gets the blame. In this case Otieno, the playwright, who was also the director, should bare brunt of the play’s non-success.
The play would have been significantly better, if he had asked someone else to direct it, since it did have a lot of potential. It is difficult to be objective about one’s own work and Otieno must have written the play, loved it, and being too eager to see it on stage, gone ahead and directed it himself.
A different director would have looked at the play from an unbiased perspective, edited the parts of the text that are too wordy or those that deviate from the main plot. For instance, the telephone conversation where Don is informed about his promotion was unnecessarily long. A good director would have also recognised the crucial role of music in the play and cast an actress who is musically gifted.
In Otieno’s defence, I would say that it isn’t easy to write a play that will please everyone in the audience. There will be people who, seemingly determined to get their five hundred shillings worth, will laugh at anything especially if it makes reference to sex and there will be other people- the type who really want meaningful theatre- sitting rigidly, waiting for the punch line.
It is however not an impossible feat to appeal to both these types of audiences- Shakespeare did. It is also worth noting that, a play need not be funny, to be entertaining.
It took the acclaimed playwright, actor,director and screenwriter Tyler Perry six years to perfect his first play, I know I have been changed, re-writing it a good many times and using his own money to have it staged over and over again, never being dissuaded by the not-so-good reviews it initially got.
Thus, despite the shortcomings of this play, I hope that Otieno and other Kenyan playwrights will continue writing and perfecting their craft.
© Anne W. Manyara 2010