(This review appeared in The EastAfrican October 3-9, 2011)
Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen(1828-1906) says, in An Enemy of The People, “The worst enemy of truth and freedom in our society is the compact majority. Yes, the damned, compact, liberal majority.”
This sentiment is echoed in Oby Obyerodhyambo’s Wanjiku’s Dilemma, whose premier show opened at Phoenix Theatre on Friday 23September.
Wanjiku is a woman who has endured years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse from her husband but could also be, by the admission of her lawyer Tunu (Jane Waithiegeni), ‘Wanjiku’ in the sense of your average woman on the no. 46 matatu to Kawangware.
In fact, the physical absence of the former brings the latter into our conscience. Like Ibsen, Obyerodhyambo champions the plight of women in a biased society.
Tunu intends to defend Wanjiku against the murder charges she faces by asking her mother Alice (Rahab Thitai), a psychologist, to testify that Wanjiku has been goaded by her husband into causing him the grievous bodily harm that has led to his death. Alice maintains that despite the molestation from her husband, Wanjiku had the freedom to make choices that wouldn’t have led to ‘the death of a human being’.
Wanjiku’s dilemma, which rests on the choices she could have otherwise made, thus becomes a society’s dilemma as a heated public debate ensues on FM radio stations and as underlying social pressures and expectations pitched against women emerge. The public is baying for Wanjiku’s blood, and the lives of the lawyers representing her are at risk. It is worth noting at this point Obyerodhyambo’s poignant depiction of the journalistic irresponsibility manifested by some of our FM stations.
The cast, well directed by George Mungai, are in good form. Waithiegeni and Thitai have good diction and voice control though a little stiff in their dialogue at the beginning of the play. Thitai’s has a small stud on her tongue that is visible when she speaks, which I found a little out of sync with the typical, Kenyan, bashed-by-her-husband-but-back-on-her-feet woman that Alice is, being at the very least, in her mid-fifties.
Janet Wakula (as Pendo), Brian Munene (as Papa Ploti), and Brian Alufwani (as Raffi) are spot-on in their roles. Wakula and Munene bring a burst of energy into the play from their first entry and Andrew Muthure conveys a suave Ricko, with his usual natural ease.
Mungai cleverly uses lines on the stage floor to define the stage space whilst maintaining the realistic style of this well-chosen and timely play.
Obyerodhiambo’s use of a climatic structure and contrasting quintessential characters is simple and effective. Tunu’s partner Ricko is distinguished from the office messenger cum security officer Papa Ploti.
Papa Ploti, who seems to confuse a man’s virility with his fertility, is of the view that ‘barren women do not want other women to have children’ while Ricko depicts the well-educated gentleman who holds the plight of disadvantaged women close to his heart and shows there is still a shred of decency left in our men folk.
Alice is the ‘human rights’ voice while Tunu is the voice of ‘justice’ and the paradox of pitching human rights against justice resonates current debates on our legal systems and perception of justice.
As the private lives and pasts of Alice, Tunu and Papa emerge, the play reveals that Wanjiku’s circumstances not restricted to the average Wanjiku on the no. 46 matatu.
Despite some parts of the dialogue, like the circumstances surrounding the death of Wanjiku’s husband, being rather repetitive, subtle humour tones down the tragic situation of the unseen character Wanjiku and the various sub-plots all thread together in the end to create a play that truly reflects our times.
© Anne Manyara 2011