A Hearty Applause for Cajetan Boy’s Dead Talk (And the curtain call?)

(This review appeared in The EastAfrican in July 20110

Salim Gitau and Sam Psenjen in Cajetan Boy’s Dead Talk

In Roman times, when a play ended, the chief actor would say to the crowd, “Vos valete et plaudite!” an invitation to the audience to applaud.

The manner of applause varies from one culture to the next and in theatre, this is followed by a curtain call, where the performers walk down the stage and bow to the audience, in acknowledgement of the audience’s applause. (In some cases, especially in music concerts, the audience may shout ‘encore!’ a request to the performers to repeat or do one more number.)

It is generally the custom, especially in Western theatre, that if the audience continues clapping, the performers, especially the main actors, do another curtain call and if a lively applause continues, another curtain call and so forth, the number of curtain calls being reflective of the audience’s appreciation.

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) had 165 curtain calls after a performance in Berlin in 1988, where the audience applauded for an hour and seven minutes.

It must be a stunning performance that would prompt an hour-long applause, considering that ten minutes is usually long enough, but after the curtain fell on the Etcetera’s production of Cajetan Boy’s Dead Talk (2009?) at Alliance Française on Sunday 24th July, I would have applauded for fifteen minutes, at the very least.

An endowed cast, directed by Caroline Odongo, brought to life credible characters in the chilling and macabre setting of a mortuary, complete with blood-stained walls and a whisky-drinking mortuary attendant, Noah (Salim Gitao), who casually starts his day’s work by shutting a fridge drawer after first folding in the arms of the dead man inside it.

His assistant Paco (Joe Kinyua) determined to do “a respectable service to society” helps him to carry in the dead, whose spirits seem to be hovering somewhere between this world and the next.

Miles (Sam Psenjen) died of AIDS, Baraka (Andrew Muthure) was a gangster killed by police and Naila (Nytte Sharon) died while trying to procure an abortion.

As the life story of each of these ghosts unfolds, the faithful and the faithless discuss the meaning of life and the place of God amidst the ills of our society- HIV positive babies, the right to life even where conception is a result of rape, child abuse, crime and criminals, police killing of suspects, and to what extent our lives are influenced by our own choices, against other people’s choices.

Salim Gitau in Cajetan Boy’s Dead Talk

The philosophic and soul-bearing session between the ghosts is interrupted by the entrance of another ghost, Lucilla (Lydia Githachu), who, it turns out, has affected the lives and even somehow caused the deaths of each of the other ghosts. She broke off her engagement to Miles when he discovered he was HIV positive, set up Baraka in the crime that led to his being shot by the police and organised the abortion that led to Laila’s death.

While the other three ghosts are eventually reconciled to their destiny, Lucilla, whose remorseless mischief is grippingly portrayed by Gathachu, is the most elated by her death since, as she says, no one will now know that she too is HIV positive, the police will not question her about her connection with Baraka in crime nor about her part-ownership in the abortion clinic that Naila attended. She therefore lies on her bench eagerly awaiting the afterlife in a manner that suggests that she intends to do more mischief there.

However, the mortuary attendants find that she is still breathing and call for an ambulance. When Noah asks, ‘I wonder if she was the most deserving of them?’ one can’t help thinking, ‘yes’- coming back to this life seems to be the sentence she deserves.

Cajetan Boy puts the wright (old English for ‘craft’) in playwright, in these well-made play that poses current, Kenyan, existentialist questions, through a prototypical but varied set of characters and fine text, making up for clichés with subtle humour and a very clever twist in the tale.

A hearty applause came at the end of the play but only Gitau, Kinyua and Githachu did the curtain call. When I asked why the rest of the cast did not, I was told, ‘they’re dead.’

A similar incidence occurred at Phoenix Theatre in February when Fridha Muhindi and Bruce Makau did not do the curtain call on account of Romeo and Juliet being dead.

Yes, Baraka, Naila and Miles are dead, but I thought Muthure, Sharon and Psenjen would have wanted to give the audience a chance to applaud them because it was indeed a good performance.

 © Anne Manyara 2011

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