Sitawa Namwalie’s new play Room of Lost Names featured at the Braeburn Theatre, Gitanga Road on June 9-11, 2017.
Welcome to Purgatory. Poet, writer and playwright Sitawa Namwalie introduces us to that in the middle place that we were taught about as kids in her new play Room of Lost Names. The show starts on a set with three characters, two men and one woman. One man and woman are in black while the other man is in a white kanzu.
As they start their conversation a young woman bustles into their space in with a dramatic entrance that includes falling, picking herself off the floor and dusting herself off. When she gets herself together, she asks the folk she has met if they can tell her where her mother is. Seems like a simple enough question if you understand her premise; she had been travelling and she is to meet her mom at the end of her journey in Eldoret.
The audience learns that this is not the Kapkruger stop in Eldoret but purgatory, the second last waystation to wherever she is supposed to spend the eternity of her afterlife. The people she is chatting to are the two gods in charge, Omuwanga who comes from the light and Gumali comes from a dark place. All she needs to do to get to her afterlife designation is to give her name and she can be shuttled of to her appropriate destination. The only problem? She cannot remember her name. She has to be sent back to her former life to try and ascertain what could have led to her death and possibly find out her identity.
The play takes a different route as we are introduced to a young woman from the town of Eldoret doing her Master’s degree at a university in the big bad city of Nairobi. The young woman who still hasn’t found her name out is preparing to go home to her mother when she runs into her cousin on the streets of the big town. Her couzo convinces her to go to a party where she will meet rich people who would possibly give her a job. It is while there that we eventually get to know her identity. The end.
This was the first running of this play on Kenyan soil having run to rave reviews in Uganda and Rwanda in previous years. The rave reviews make perfect sense as this is a very strong play where the writing is concerned which is what we come to expect from this artist. Not playing in Kenya before may be a coincidence and all but when you watch it you realise that this play could only be shown on a Kenyan stage after one of our governors lost their party primaries. The story eerily reads like one where a young woman lost her life when she had a drink with a Kenyan VIP that went very badly for her. If you read this handy link, you will know where the author might have gotten some of her inspiration.
I did feel that the pacing of the play was a bit off as we spent a huge amount of time on the beginning sequence as we meet the gods light and dark. I know that it is the Room of Lost Names but would have loved to have seen more of her life before the schism that took her to meet her maker. Also a mite weird for this watcher was the “Temptation” character played by the excellent Laura Ekumbo. What is the point of the silent character who slinks around the stage? Would there be any difference to this plot if she was completely taken out of this play? We will never know.
The cast were really strong. Mufasa was hilarious in his black leather pants that reminded me of Ross from Friends in his leather pants in that famous scene when I first saw him. His portrayal was of course not comic at the base but fuller. He started out as the trickster and it emerges that he feels the pain of the people who come into his space. It is a tender character we see yelling, “make it stop.”
Checkpoint Mido has been seen on stages locally and further afield for a long while. The straight laced rule obsessed Omuwanga is a portrayal that surprised me; the man has a wide range in his acting repertoire. He proved this further with his portrayal of a second character, Ben the rich charmer turned psycho slapper and kicker of students who refuse to his bidding, a very chilling one.
Also giving a great performance is Laura Ekumbo with three roles. Her primary role as temptation so her on stage slouching about listening in all conversations like “Jesus the unseen guest at every meal.” Her choreography is very good but I am not sure about its role in the play. She comes to life as the cousin of dead girl. Decent.
The play’s main protagonist is Dead Girl Played by Namussasi Silviah Nasimiyu and she is bloody brilliant. She owns the role and I would love to see her in a different role so see if this is a one off .
Would I recommend this play to you? Hell yeah. Lets hope they do another run of the show again soon. Everyone needs to watch this.
Here is the cast and writer of the play in full.