Sunday, 30 September 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted September 29, 2018)

Paa ya Paa Gallery will host a Silent Art Auction this coming Sunday, October 7th from 2pm. It’s the second Silent Auction witnessed in Nairobi over the past fortnight, the first being the TNR one curated by Carol Lees of One Off Gallery

But the PYP auction, entitled ‘The Last Bid’ is quite different from the previous one. Both aim to raise funds for worthy causes. The TNR one was in the service of public health and the vaccinating and neutering of stray dogs and cats.
The Paa ya Paa auction is aimed at raising funds for the renovation and restoration of the Gallery. The original PYP art centre was established on the ground floor of what was then called Sadler House, on the corner of Koinange and Mokhtar Dadah Streets.
It was a thriving cultural venue that featured poetry readings and performances as well as art exhibitions. It was a place where many East African intellectuals hung out from its inception in 1965. They including poets like Okot p’Bitek and Taban lo Liong as well as journalists and novelists like Hilary Ng’weno, Philip Ochieng, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Jonathan Kariara. But when CBD rents shot sky high in the early 1970s, the gallery had to move out to its current Ridgeways location.
But then, after the fire of 1998 which veritably gutted the gallery, destroyed the library (with all those first edition books) and nearly all the exquisite wooden statues that had been scattered all around the grounds, Paa ya Paa has never fully recovered from that harrowing moment.

Fortunately, friends of PYP helped to reconstruct the gallery sufficiently so it has a spacious indoor-outdoor area where all the art to be auctioned on Sunday has been hanging since late June.
Over 50 artworks by mainly Kenyan artists are on display there. But they have also been up on PYP’s Facebook page with opportunities for the public to place their bids in advance of this Sunday.

“That’s why we call October 7th ‘the final bid’,” says Phillda Njau, who has curated this show and who hopes many local (and global) art lovers will come, see and ‘silently’ bid on artworks of their choice.
What makes the selection of Paa ya Paa’s painting so very different from those featured at the TNR auction is that all of the art has a history.

“Most of the works are by artists who’d exhibited at Paa ya Paa in years past and who never collected the (unsold) pieces after their exhibitions were done,” Phillda adds.
The gallery made several attempts to contact those artists to encourage them to come collect their work. Otherwise, they were all placed in storage at the art centre.
What’s made this auction possible is the gallery’s now having student interns from both Kenyatta University and USIU who have helped Phillda to not only bring all the artworks out of storage but also to clean and catalogue them. After that, they helped her hang and label them on the gallery walls in preparation for the upcoming auction.

The silent auction is actually part of a larger ‘Project Facelift’ that Phillda initiated together with graffiti artist Swift Elegwa and his team. Swift had already created beautiful graffiti art at the gallery some time back, but it needs a touch up. That graffiti stretched across the main Paa ya Paa Lane entrance of the Gallery as well as at the entrance to the original (pre-fire) edifice which had once been owned by Oxford University Press.
But then, it was sold to an American academic named Maurice Wolfe, the former instructor of Elimo Njau (one of the six co-founders of PYP), who bought it as well as the land surrounding it with the understanding that Elimo would serve as a sort of caretaker of the property which would specifically serve the needs of the artists, especially those affiliated with Paa ya Paa.

So the silent auction is meant to kick off the new Project Facelift campaign. Among the artists whose works will be available for bidding are several Sudanese artists, including Abusharia, Ammar Salah and Yassir Ali, who came to Paa ya Paa from the early 1990s.

 Other artists whose early works are up at the gallery include Uhuru Brown, Kibachia Gatu, Lionel Njuguna, Evans Maina Ngure, Allan Green, Adam Massava, Esther Mukuhi, George Ngaruiya, Patrick Kariuki, N. Hassan and the late Abel Kerugoya among others

Friday, 28 September 2018


                                                                              Ron Enoch Luke's ladies from home

By margaretta wa gacheru (posted 28 September 2018)
                                                                                      Deng Chol of Sudan
Kenyan artists have been donating their art to worthy causes in recent times. A fortnight ago, a number of them were donating to the TNR Trust to help raise funds for a clinic committed to vaccinating dogs for rabies and neutering stray cats and dogs. The Silent Auction in which their art was being bid on and sold helped to earn the TNR (stands for Track, Neuter and Release) more than a million shillings.
Now at the Kobo Trust in Kilimani, a whole other group of a dozen local artists has mounted an exhibition at the Trust’s gallery to raise funds for the education of several orphans who have been sponsored by Kobo over the last seven years.
                                                                                                   Gemini Vaghela

“Since the five are just completing their form four exams, they will soon be going off to college, so they’ll be needing extra support,” says Marvin Njeru, Kobo’s communications officer.
                                                                                               Lemek Tompoika

That’s how the artists who actually have studios at Kobo got involved in contributing their art for the sake of the five whose lives have already been dramatically transformed by the founder of the Trust, Gabriel Gonzalez and its trustee Clara Garcias.
                                                                                                           Paul Njihia

“Kobo Safaris was also founded by Gabriel,” says Franklin Mawira, project manager for the Trust. “Gabriel is someone who cares about vulnerable children but both he and Clara also care about the arts and artists,” Mawira adds.

“It was really thanks to David Thuku and Onyis Martin that the exhibition got curated in time,” says Ann McCreath, fashion designer and founder of KikoRomeo who is also based at the Kobo.
                                                                               KikoRomeo by Ann McCreath

"Thuku and Onyis, who both have studios at the Trust, managed to assemble artworks by a dozen local artists who either have a history with Kobo, like Kaloki Nyamai, John Kamicha and Peter Elungat. Or they are currently working out of the same Riara Road space that shares the compound with Kobo Safaris.

Among the artists based at the Trust whose works are also up in the Trust’s vast gallery are Paul Njihia, Lemek Tompoika, Gemini Vaghela, Ron Enoch Luke, Okamar Onesmus, Deng chol, Ann McCreath, Onyis and Thuku.

                                                                         Kaloki Nyama 
Their art represents a diverse range of what we know to be contemporary Kenyan art. For while Ron Luke’s paintings are hyper-realistic and Njihia’s comes close to that style in this show, the works by Gemini and Deng are abstract and have appeal for their lines, colors and designs. Meanwhile, Kaloki, Onyis, Thuku and Lemek all donated semi-abstract pieces to the exhibition, all of which convey deeper meanings one can only deduce by digging into the artists’ souls.
Elungat has brought several of his vintage works to the exhibition, each reflecting a period in his painterly past which he has since broken free from. They’re ethereal images of idyllic beauties. Only one of his works contrasts with these, reflecting a rather dystopic cement-styled landscape. So one can only assume Elungat’s art is in transition, which is a good thing.
                                                                                                       David Thuku

Finally, the works by Kamicha and Onesmus have an ambiguity to their art that leaves one wondering what they mean to say.

Only Ann McCreath brings elegance and glamor to the show by featuring two full length cloaks, designed in a regale style that’s slightly reminiscent of the cloak worn by the King whose costume she created specially for Tinga Tinga Tales the Musical.
                                                                                      John Kamicha
The Kobo Trust artists show has been extended through October 27th so one still has time to lend support to the children that Kobo kindly supports.
                                                                         Onyis Martin


Thursday, 27 September 2018


‘2063 – Last Mile Bet’
By Tony Mochama
Nsemia Inc Press 2018

Book Review by Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 September 2018)

Tony Mochama stretches our imagination with his latest novel, ‘2063 – Last Mile Bet’ which came out at a pre-launch launch a few weeks back at the IMAX theatre upstairs.
Still to be finally edited by Nsemia Inc. Publishers, the book will officially be released later this year. In the meantime, one has to marvel at Mochama’s wild imagination, leave alone his method of speculation about what the future will bring to Kenya between now and 2063.
His story is set in a time when Kenya’s in its centennial year. His protagonist is 88 years old, presumably the age Mochoma will be when he reaches that autumn’esque stage of his life career.
His protagonist, Morgan Chamaroche, is a crusty old gambler who, in the course of exactly 24 hours, reflects on his past in a series of flashbacks as well as on his present, which is quite precarious.
For it would seem old Chamaroche has dug himself into a huge bottomless pit of debt. He’s been afflicted with a gambling addiction for many years. What’s worse is that he’s been mindlessly borrowing from the Mafia all that time. So it’s understandable when the Italian mafia man gives him so many hours before reaching a June 2, 2063 deadline, to come up with the cash: It’s a cool SH80 million that Chamaroche owes. And if he doesn’t pay up on time, it’s curtains for him.
So while his whole life flashes before him in the course of that one 24 hour day, (between 10am, June 1, 2063 and 9:59am the following day), Chamaroche takes a lot of time to reflect on the issues of death and immortality. Clearly, he’s a man who’d like to live forever. He’s even taken sundry drugs to deflect any signs of dementia.
He’s also served as a sort of scientific guinea pig, allowing a Swiss doctor to insert ‘nanobots’ (or “the micro-metals of immortality”) into the inner recesses of his “molecular bonds.” These were meant to strengthen his valves and arteries, which apparently they have.
However, with this experiment as in so many other spheres of Morgan’s life, he takes a big risk that can have dire consequences. For instance, the nanobots can become “suicide bombers of the heart, a Trojan horse in his brain” if provoked by stress or over-excitement.
So Chamoroche hobbles around a rather dystopic Kenya, like a kind of ticking time-bomb. If the Mafia doesn’t get him, the drugs or the nanobots might. But until one of them does, Morgan has a good thing going, apart from his addiction.
It’s that addiction that compels him to calculate that one last multimillion shilling bet. Either way, Mochama and Morgan are prepared for whatever, come what may.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 26 September)

‘Night, Mother’ wasn’t the only show to cope with depression last weekend. However, at Alliance Francaise, the Friends Ensemble’s ‘Prisoner in Us’ fortunately blended angst with boisterous, over-the-top madness to allow us to take Mel’s (Joe Kinyua) despair as a passing cloud.

Mel is desperate, having lost his job after working there for many years; but he’ll eventually bounce back. He has to, after his devoted wife Edna (Mwajuma Belle) returns to work in his stead but then gets laid off herself.

In the interim, Mel’s siblings show up, headed by Harry (Sam Psenjin) accompanied by his three sisters. Harry genuinely wants to help Mel get back on his feet; the sisters not so much. They don’t like Edna and apparently the feeling is mutual.

In the end, what we find in ‘Prisoner in Us’ is that depression can be overcome when there’s communication and trust among friends. Edna does it for Mel and he in turn does it for her. Each is able to break through the other’s despair with a bundle of tender loving care.

It was good to see Kinyua and Psenjin back on stage as they’ve been off making movies and hit TV shows. They’ve promised to be back on stage soon, which is good to know.

Meanwhile, this is the last weekend to see ‘Tinga Tinga Tales the Musical’. The shows may be already sold out but it’s worth getting on a waiting list just to see this glorious extravaganza of music, light, dancing and delightful stories all based on African folklore.

It stars an outstanding, multitalented Kenyan cast including Eric Wainaina, who composed all the music. Soon to be heading to New York’s Broadway stage at the New Victory Theatre, no theatre-lover should miss this production. It’s supposedly meant especially for children, but it’s such an upbeat, professional show, no adult should miss it if you can help it.

This Saturday will also see the Dance Centre Kenya staging a newly choreographed production, entitled ‘Freedom’. Directed by Cooper Rust, DCK’s founder-artistic director, the show will be on at GEMS International School from 7pm.

That same day, Kenya’s Slam Poetry champion Kikete F.M will perform at Goethe Institute with the Dash Band from 3pm. The show’s entitled ‘Maybe You will Relate’. Kikete will then represent Kenya at the World Cup of Slam Poetry in Chad.

Finally, Heartstrings returns next Thursday to Alliance Francaise in ‘Last Man Standing’.


‘night, Mother’ a tear-jerker of a play

By Margaretta wa Gacheru

‘Night, Mother’ is the sort of play that can haunt the innocent spectator who’s only heard the drama is about depression and a young woman contemplation of suicide.

Staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre’s Ukumbi Mdogo, one might assume you wouldn’t be afflicted with a suicide taking place on the Kenyan stage. And yet, one can recall a number of other gruesome scenes performed recently on stage in Nairobi. For instance, there was the way Jesus was tortured and slaughtered at the Kenya National Theatre in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. Then there was Nairobi Performing Arts Studio’s interpretation of the hit South African (and Broadway) musical, ‘Sarafina’, where student protesters were shot dead by Apartheid home guards right there on the National Theatre stage.

But even with these recollections, one wouldn’t necessarily expect to be affected so deeply by the performances of Julisa Rowe as the Mother and Rachel Kostrna as her miserable daughter Jessie.

The haunting sense only gradually creep up on you. It’s in a way that’s similar to how the Mother only gradually sees that her daughter means it when she says point blank that she’s going to kill herself. Jessie doesn’t say she ‘wants’ to kill herself. Rather, she firmly declares she intends to do the fatal deed that very evening. She won’t be deterred by her mother’s imploring which gradually reaches a high pitch of pain that Julisa miraculously manages to sustain.

It’s that pitch which starts off as a slow burn. The Mother initially attempts to distract her child from her intended end. Mother tries to make light of the matter. She suggests Jessie try her favorite foods, hot cocoa and a caramel apple, the kind only Mother can make.

But the mother flubs it. What’s worse, Jessie’s end game seems all the more inevitable as she insists her mother tell her truths she had always wondered about. Like did Mother love Father? No. That’s what Jessie thought, but the daughter did, even though her father took his own life and left her alone.

And why did Jessie’s husband Cecil also leave her? Mother spills the painful truth: he had another woman.

But what perhaps is the most painful truth the Mother tells her child is that Jessie had epileptic fits from a very early age. She had never told her daughter this before and never even got her diagnosed.

The first time Jessie realized she had a problem was when she had a frothy fit in Cecil’s presence. The story got spun that Jessie only started getting fits after she fell off of Cecil’s horse.

‘Night, Mother’ is a captivating and complex story about everything from depression due to ignorance and communication breakdowns to the shame associated with the social stigmas of epilepsy and depression.

But back to the haunting feeling I was left with after watching this Sanifu and ACT Kenya production featuring Dr. Rowe, the actress and former Daystar University drama lecturer and Rachel Kostrna, the professional dramatist from Oregon, USA.

Julisa portrays a simple woman from rural America who hasn’t a clue that her daughter is suffering from severe depression which had reached the point of despair and no return. It’s probably the way the Mother finally recognizes her own insensitivity to her child’s pain that is so painful to watch. Equally excruciating is the way the mother’s native intelligence finally kicks in and she sees she’s got a life and death struggle to wage in order to save her daughter’s life. Tragically, it’s a struggle she ultimately will not win.

‘Night, mother’ is hardly a happy play. My feeling is it’s almost impossible to watch without weeping with the Mother and her hopeless recognition that she had no power to change her daughter’s mind. The feeling of helplessness in the face of death doesn’t feel like play acting on Julisa’s part.

One is haunted by the mother whom the actress seems to know in her bones and marrow as a pitiful creature. She plays a mother whose love is not strong enough to make her daughter see life is still worth living and hope is still something she can hold onto.

Ultimately, both the mother and the child are trapped at many levels. What’s more, the Pulitzer- prize winning playwright of ‘night, Mother’, Marsha Norman, makes us wonder if, in the end, the daughter is more honest with herself than her mother had ever been.


By Margaretta wa acheru (26 september 2018)

Thank heaven for the judge who cancelled Kenya Film Classification Board’s ban on Wanuri Kahiu’s film ‘Rafiki’ which will now be shown not only in Nairobi at Prestige Plaza through Sunday but also in Mombasa and Kisumu.
Originally, the court ruling was that the film could be shown for the seven consecutive days required for Rafiki to be eligible for an Oscar nomination. But due to popular demand, the screening has been extended countrywide to six cinemas in all.
KFCB would have deprived all Kenyans the opportunity to see the film which now has a real chance of winning an academy award at next year’s Oscars in Hollywood.
Wanuri was being real when she said she’d just wanted to make a film that tells of tender love story about friendship, which is what Rafiki essentially is.
Of course, in Kenya, same-sex love is still seen as a cultural abomination. But the love scenes in Rafiki are neither pornographic nor gratuitous, contrary to KFCB’s insistence that the film preaches homosexuality.
Rafiki is a well-told story that’s got a Shakespearean touch to it, given it’s got a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme of two feuding families, the Mwaura’s and the Okemi’s. Both household heads (played by Jimmy Gathu and Dennis Musyoka respectively) are running for public office, with Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) being a Mwaura and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) an Okemi. But like Shakespeare’s sweethearts, the two friends overlook their fathers’ political feud. They get in big trouble for it, but their friendship endures. Or does it?
I won’t be a spoiler to give away too much of the plot. But there’s ambiguity at the end of Rafiki, which makes the film all the more intriguing.
The two girls couldn’t be more opposite. Kena’s a flat-chested tomboy who plays football with the guys, rides a skateboard and works part-time in her father’s shop. Ziki, on the other hand, is a free-spirited party-girl who’s charmed by Kena, and the feeling quickly becomes mutual.
But their trials come just as quickly as social pressures mount, first from the local gossip, Mama Atim (Muthoni Gathecha), then from the church and the parents, and finally from the mob which metes out its own form of violent ‘justice’ against the two nonconformists.
But despite those ugly moments in the film, the cinematography of Rafiki is beautiful, as is the casting. What’s more, the film has got an authentic Kenyan texture as most of it was shot at Highrise, right here in Nairobi.
Patricia Kihoro was Rafiki’s musical director, keeping the sound-track upbeat and featuring all Kenyan female musicians, according to Wanuri’s specification. Much of the film has English subtitles since most of the urban conversations are in Swahili and Sheng, which also adds to the Kenyan feeling of the film.
There will be critics of Rafiki and most of them will stay home and not go see the film. Yet when Rafiki wins on that international platform, they can inevitably claim credit for its being by a Kenyan.

Monday, 24 September 2018


                                                                  Market day at Red Hill by Patrick Kinuthia

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 September 2018)

Patrick Kinuthia may be best known for his colorful portraits of beautiful African women. His women are all distinctive for their elegance, youth and apparent poise, gentility and grace that derives no doubt from their assurance that Patrick has painted them with an African Mona Lisa in mind.

It could be that most of his women are figments of his fertile imagination. But even if they are, their imaginary vitality veritably pours forth from his portraits such that one can easily assume they actually have blood running through their veins.
Yet however popular Kinuthia’s portraits are among local art collectors, he’s chosen to focus on landscape painting in his latest one-man exhibition which just opened last weekend at Polka Dot Gallery in Karen and running through 16 October.

Either way, Kinuthia has a vibrant sense of organic Kenyan colours. His landscapes are especially fine reflections of his keen ability to capture nuances in shades of green, be they shaped as leafy trees, grassy fields, tea plantations or even heaps of deep green cabbages stacked high in some rural market place.
Kinuthia’s secret, he says, is his love of the light that’s exceptionally bright in equatorial Kenya (when it’s not rainy season and not the sort of Nairobi winter that we locals have had to endure in recent times). His is a love that enables him to capture the sheen of Karen stable horses (which appear in his current show) as well as the shimmering turquoise blue hues that ripple along the Lamu coast.
Kinuthia mainly paints with acrylics (since they dry much faster than oils). But he also uses charcoal to shade and outline and generate the chiaroscuro shadows that enhance the mood and feeling of his landscapes, including his trees, rocks, ridges and rivulets.
Kinuthia has few street scenes in this show, apart from the empty dirt roads he’s found in Malindi, Kagwe in Kiambu and even off the beaten path in Muthaiga. But there’s one that stands out; it’s in Shela where four little boys are on the road but standing strategically in the shadow of over-reaching tree boughs. The shadow serves as their refuge as the sun looks set at high noon and it seems to be a scorching hot day.
In the seminal book, ‘Visual Voices’ by Susan Wakhungu Githuku, Kinuthia explains that he loves to travel and loved learning photography at Kenya Polytechnic. That love of travel is most apparent in this show (which is obliquely entitled ‘Aspects’) since his semi-impressionist landscapes range all the way from Lamu and Shela village to Lake Nakuru and Crater Lake. He’s even taken time to paint Malinda (both in water colors and acrylics), Muthaiga and Mau Narok.
Yet Kinuthia’s visions of Kenya are ephemeral, given the rate of change taking place in the country currently. One hates to imagine that the pastoral-like scenes that he captures in broad sweeping brush strokes may soon by history. But that’s what happened to earlier landscape artists like Constable, Gainsborough and Turner, so one can assume that Kinuthia’s paintings could soon reflect a bygone time.
Nonetheless, the artist is happy to paint what he sees in his own way right now. The surprising thing about the man is that for all his popularity, the prices of his works are still relatively low, even affordable to middle class Kenyans.
Kinuthia says he likes to keep his prices low so that people can afford them. And if in future, the value of his art accrues, he says that’s all the better for his art-loving clients. 


                                         Tina Benawra with her painting 'Upendo Kazi' at Hotel Intercontinental Nairobi

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 24 September 201)

Creating art for the visually-impaired sounds like an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Indeed, it sounds like an impossibility.
Yet once you meet Tina Benawra, the diminutive Kenyan artist who loves painting on large canvases like the one currently on display in the front lobby of Hotel Intercontinental, you won’t be surprised to find that very little looks impossible to her.
Growing up on the edge of Nairobi’s CBD in Ngara, the only little girl in a ‘hood full of busy little boys, Tina joined in on all their games, including making toy matatus and cars from Kimbo tins, soda bottle tops and wires.
“I think that’s when I acquired my taste for both art and science,” says the former bio-physicist turned filmmaker turned visual artist whose paintings literally speak to the visually impaired.

Having grown up the middle child between two brothers, Tina’s parents were conventional enough to educate their boys while encouraging their girl to get a job. Tina completed her A-levels on a scholarship but then went to work as a flight attendant.
That’s how she got to Basel, Switzerland where she found the Open University enabled her to study and work simultaneously. It was the sciences that intrigued her most initially. But after several years, first researching a cure for AIDS, then shifting into engineering, she realized the sciences alone couldn’t satisfy her soul. So she went to study film in the UK, now realizing the arts had more appeal to her over the long haul.
Having studied film editing and scriptwriting before learning a family member back home wasn’t well, Tina returned to Kenya in 2015 just in time to participate in the Machakos Film Festival. But she wasn’t ready to move back to Kenya just yet. Her home base was still Basel.
It was there that she began studying the Swiss psychologist CG Jung and the unconscious. “I found myself buying cans of spray paint and ‘automatically’ creating graffiti on walls,” she says. Some of her graffiti had a more controlled and realistic feel to it, but progressively, it’s gotten more surreal and automatic.

Around the same time, Tina realized her twin loves of art and engineering could go hand in hand. She’d come back to Kenya to attend her brother’s wedding; and while she was here, she took a course in welding from a friend in Mlololongo. (She wanted to weld scrap metal into a water fountain).
It wasn’t long thereafter that she began meeting Kenyans who shared nearly as broad a range of interests as she had. Prior to that time, Tina was flying back and forth between Switzerland and Kenya, and hadn’t settled in sufficiently to see much of the Nairobi arts scene.
But the scale was now tipping towards spending more time and doing more with her art in Kenya. That’s when she met Velma Kiome of the Christian Blind Mission and began to see how her art could serve as a form of therapy for relieving the disabled of their sense of isolation and alienation.
When she got the call to create a painting for the visually impaired, Tina first thought of texture and the blind literally feeling her paintings. But then she decided to learn braille, the language of the blind. Now she incorporates a bit of it into her highly textured artworks.

The one at Hotel Intercontinental is for the visually impaired in two respects. On the one hand, it can be felt and read to be appreciated. But it can also be bought since the funds from its sale will go to CBM, to help build an art centre that will enable to disabled to both paint and sculpt and get involved in expressing more of their creative selves.
Tina is already working on more artworks for the visually-impaired but now she wants to also incorporate sound into her work, creating more multimedia art.
“I also have a deep concern for the environment so I hope to create artworks that can educate young people about the importance of protecting and preserving our environment,” says this innovative young woman who, for the time being, is happy to be working from this side of the world.
“I’ve got several new projects that I’m working on which will keep me busy here for the time being,” she adds. “So, yes, I guess I’m back, but I’m still on the move.”

Thursday, 20 September 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru

“Night, Mother” is a Pulitzer prize-winning drama that makes its Kenyan premiere tonight at Kenya National Theatre’s Ukumbi Mdogo at 7pm.

Presented by Sanifu Productions and ACT Kenya, the two-hander is a compelling story about a mother and daughter at a critical moment when Jessie (Rachel Kostrna) is contemplating suicide and her mom Thelma (Julisa Rowe) is trying to talk her out of it.

‘Night, Mother’ won its playwright Martha Norman several Tony award nominations and the prestigious Pulitzer prize for theatre in 1983. But despite the play being more than 35 years old, it remains fresh, timely and sadly relevant to our local scene where suicide has become the second most frequent cause of death among young people.

According to the World Health Organization, it’s youth ranging from ages 15 to 29 who are most prone to depression and suicide. Jessie falls into that age group and has decided she’s got no good reason to stay alive.

The tension in this tenderly sensitive tale is what has made the play so popular in the Western world. But just as Kenyans have appropriated so many other cultural qualities, customs and quirky attributes from the West, they have also embraced a number of psychological trends. One of them is suicide, a practice virtually unheard of in pre-colonial Kenya.

Julisa Rowe has been a professional actor for many years and a theatre lecturer at Daystar University for the past 11 years. Rachel Kostrna is a visiting performing artist from Oregon who’s directed, scripted and starred in many plays.

“Night, Mother’ will be staged through Sunday.

Meanwhile, news just in is that Heartstrings Kenya has been working on a new comedy. They will be staging ‘Last Man Standing’ from 4th-7th October at Alliance Francaise.

Finally, this past week has witnessed a style of performance that relies on literature other than actual plays. At Goethe Institute, Ngartia Bryan of Too early for Birds, gave a spellbinding performance from Olumide Popoola’s novel, ‘When we speak of nothing’. And at the Point Zero Coffee House, members of the Performance Collective, Aghan Odera and Wambua Kawive read from ‘Love in the time of cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Both performances were inspired.

And at Kenya National Theatre, Tinga Tinga Tales the Musical is only running this weekend and next. So it’s best to book now or you might miss this extra-ordinarily entertaining production.


Wednesday, 19 September 2018


By Margaretta wa Gacheru (19 September 2018)

Grace Mercy Muruthi is a blossoming playwright to be reckoned with as we saw early this week when her first musical, ‘Melissa’, premiered at the Michael Joseph Centre. Directed by Joseph Ochieng, her fellow Talanta Institute performing arts lecturer, Mercy took a risk in giving her first play to be performed by a young cast who are also her students at the Institute.

Yet Mercy wasn’t let down by either Rhoda Memusi who took the title role, or Philip Muoki, Melissa’s sweetheart, Dave, who’s in love with Melissa, but only conditionally as it turns out. The rest of the cast, including Melissa’s friends and David’s family, were all committed to their roles. But two key players who didn’t have huge parts in the play are pivotal and mutually provide a moral compass that will turn the tide in Melissa life.

They are the Cucu (played by Eva Wangari) and Melissa’s little girl (Nelly Wambaire).  Cucu, Melissa’s mother is adamant against her daughter wasting herself by returning to wedding plans with Dave. Clearly, she has heard about his physical abuse of her child. She undoubtedly has also heard about his typically male attitude of not wanting another man’s child in his life. It’s an attitude that compels many Kenyan women to either conceal their child’s existence from the prospective spouse or stick with the child and leave the man, as Melissa eventually does.

Cucu also knows that once a man lifts a finger against his woman, he can easily do it again. So she protests against Melissa’s departure with Dave once he comes home to their village and woos her back into his life. She is deeply concerned for her daughter’s safety and generally disapproves of the man. Melissa doesn’t listen however.

That’s where the other key player in the show comes in. It’s Melissa’s unnamed daughter that ultimately turns the tide on her mom’s decision to wed or not. Yet just as in Zippy Okoth’s two installments of the ‘diary of a divorced woman’ (both staged earlier this year), it takes the woman way too long to admit to herself that she need not tolerate the abuse she receives from her man.

In Zippy’s case, the abuse went on even longer than Melissa’s. But it would seem that both playwrights, Mercy and Zippy sought to portray the plight of women in relationships with men who apparently feel free to clobber the women closest to them. In Zippy’s case, the woman was beaten even though she was the mother of the man’s child. But that didn’t seem to bother Ricky, her spouse.

Fortunately, Melissa chooses to get out of what might have led to more domestic abuse by not showing up at the wedding. Nonetheless, she had already been hit by Dave more than once and it seemed Melissa was willing to suffer that fate again just so she could become ‘Mrs. Dave’.

In an interview prior to the show’s opening, Mercy had noted she had felt compelled to write ‘Melissa’ because she knew too many single mothers who were willing to sacrifice their dignity, physical well-being and potentially, even their lives just so they could have a man, ideally a husband living with them. They wanted the status more than the security, which Mercy felt was wrong.
           Melissa's music provided by (L-R) Dickson Kasavuli, guitarist, Jeremy Munene, vocalist & Frank Kariuki, pianist

“I wanted Melissa to show that single mothers could make it on their own. They don’t have to believe that life would be better with a man, any man, with them,” said Mercy.

Ultimately, Melissa the musical achieves her aim. However, it was something of a surprise when, at the last minute (on opening night), she absents herself from the wedding. We had just seen her in her wedding gown so we, along with Dave and his uncle (Joseph Gakure) we were confused when she didn’t show. Up until then, Melissa had looked like she was just like the other women willing to go all the way into wedlock in spite of their knowing they might be putting themselves in harm’s way.

In subsequent shows, Melissa’s daughter shows up with the Cucu when Melissa’s all dressed and set for the big event. But her heart melts at the sight of her child and the realization she might lose their precious bond once she marries Dave. So she makes the fateful choice to cancel out. It’s a surprise ending but it works. It also fulfills Mercy’s plan the write a play that wakes up both women and men.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018



By margaretta wa gacheru (held 18 september 2018)

‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’, the Amazon-streaming series that’s in its first season, just won big time at the 70th annual Emmy Awards last Monday night (17th September) at the Microsoft Centre in Los Angeles, USA.
Winning five trophies for Best Comedy series as well as for best actress (Rachel Brosnahan), best supporting actor (Alex Borstein), best director and best script-writer (Amy Sherman-Pelladino) of a comedy, Mrs Maisel may not have been viewed by too many Kenyans as yet. But it’s got a great story and has special relevance to young Kenyan women. That relevance relates to the way women may be brought up to accept a subordinate social status but once they find that there’s a way forward—and that it’s only up to them to take it—they can rise to take up any task once thought to be only for men. That’s what happens to Mrs Maisel; it can happen to Kenyan women as well.
And while the story is set in the 1950s New York City, it’s about a newly-married woman in her 20s named Miriam ‘Midge’ Maisel. She’s happy to be in a conventional middle class marriage where, despite having gone to one of the best women’s universities in the States, she’s thoroughly content to be a housewife whose whole life is focused on her man. His ambition is to be a stand-up comic and she does everything in her power to support him, but when he realizes he’ll never be a comedian, he reveals he’s been having an affair with his secretary and he leaves Midge for her. Midge is furious as he’s just smashed her dreams as well, but inadvertently, she takes the stand-up stage that he failed to command. That ‘inadvertent’ (and bumpy) path to finding her way into a professional career is what the series charts.
During her acceptance speech on Monday night, Rachel explained that the story “is all about a woman who’s finding her voice anew. It’s one of the things that’s happening right now all over the country,” and I believe all over the world.
Rachel is no stranger to cable TV series. She was in House of Cards for 13 episodes, played Abby Isaac in Manhattan, was in movies like The Unborn (while still in high school) and in network TV shows like Gossip Girl, The Good Wife and Grey’s Anatomy (while still at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts). 
She’s even been on Broadway, making her debut in 2013 after which she starred as Desdemona in Othello opposite David Oyelowo (who played Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma) and Daniel (007) Craig.

What I enjoyed about ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ was the way her life was like a preview of what would happen to American women in the 1960s and beyond, when they woke up to realize they could dream dreams just as large or larger than men’s. And they could expect to achieve them on an equal basis with men, even if it meant challenging the status quo and expecting society to change for the betterment of not only the planet but of men as well as women.



By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 18 September 2018)

When Emmy award winners were announced this past Monday night, (17th September) at the Microsoft Theatre in Los Angeles, more Kenyans would have known why the fantasy epic ‘Game of Thrones’ won yet another accolade. The popular HBO series (now in its eighth season) has many local fans (of which I am not one).

But they probably would have known far less about ‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ which won even more trophies on Monday night than did ‘Thrones’. The two shows were the overwhelming winners on Monday evening. One a drama, victorious over ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’ which won the trophy last year; the other a ‘freshman’ comedy still in its first season. Nonetheless, it won five trophies setting the record for the night.

‘The Marvelous Mrs Maisel’ won for Best Comedy series at the 70th Emmy Awards. It won Best Actress in Rachel Brosnahan who plays the title role, that of a frustrated 1950s New York City-based housewife named Miriam or ‘Midge’ who finds herself doing stand-up comedy. Her cast-mate Alex Borstein bagged the Best Supporting Actor’s award. And the creator of the Amazon-streaming series, Amy Sherman-Pelladino won for best scriptwriting and best directing of a comedy.

During her acceptance’s speech, Rachel Brosnahan gave a brief summary of what the series is about and why it resonated so well with the judges of this years’ cable-TV shows. (There was only one network TV show that won this year, namely ‘Saturday Night Live’, the irreverent ‘sketch comedy’ show that regularly lampoons leading American politicians.)

“It’s about a woman who’s finding her voice anew. It’s one of the things that’s happening all over the country right now,” said Ms. Brosnahan whose character literally stumbles into stand-up comedy.

Midge had been a happily married housewife, content to play the conventional middle class American woman’s role of supportive spouse. Even though she had gone to one of the best women’s universities, she was living in pre-feminist times when women’s liberation and gender equality hadn’t crossed her mind.

She was fully prepared to support and encourage her husband’s futile ambition to become a successful stand-up comic. Yet when it became obvious that he’d never make it as a comedian, he left Midge for his office secretary. Caught by surprise, Midge ended up taking to the stage herself. First it was out of a sense of outrage at the injustice of being dumped by her spouse. Then it happened at the spurring on of close friends who saw her comedic flare and potential.

Midge is a complex character who inadvertently ends up breaking out of her middle class cocoon. It’s not an easy break but the series explores the beginnings of a cultural revolution in which women begin to question their second class social status and challenge the status quo.

Midge is a woman in her 20s, and like many young women, she’s at a fascinating stage in life when she’s making discoveries about herself all the time. Her story transcends American culture and may speak to women wherever they’re making choices which way to go in their lives.



Monday, 17 September 2018



By Margaretta wa Gacheru  (posted 17 September 2018)

One thing we learned last Sunday at the first ever TNR Silent Art Auction is that animal lovers are not necessarily art lovers and vice versa.
The majority who attended the TNR picnic were primarily animal lovers who came not just to enjoy the food, fresh air, music, fellowship or even the art by some of Kenya’s finest contemporary artists.
They came to support a worthy cause, that of animal welfare and the group, TNR, which stands for ‘track, neuter, release’.
In fact, the picnic and the silent auction (organized by Carol Lees who is both the owner of One Off Gallery and a TNR trustee) were part of a fund-raising event to get TNR’s mobile veterinary clinic off and rolling round the country, providing free rabies vaccinations and dog neutering all over Kenya.
It was in aid of that worthy cause that Carol invited local artists to create works that could be included in last Sunday’s Silent Auction. As an added incentive she gave out stretched canvas squares (30cms by 30cms) to artists who were interested in taking part.
In all there were 46 paintings in the silent auction that had gone online for the bidding to begin a few weeks before the deadline day of disclosure, 16th September when the bidding was to end at 3pm.
But when 3pm rolled around, Carol, assisted by Kui Ogong’a and Annie Mather allowed for a little bit of last minute bidding, both the kind that came in on the auction’s what’s app account and in person.
In fact, that last minute bidding is what earned the auction its largest sales. Both Kui and Annie were monitoring What’s app since there were bidders overseas (as well as some locals) who were also watching the bids closely.
Annie was continually updating the bids online while Kui was updating the public listing at the tented arena where the TNR silent auction was taking place.
Perhaps it was because there were so many other events going on (like the raffle, the dog show, the live band and the gourmet food) that the auction didn’t attract the sort of art-shopping audience that could have snapped up almost every artwork on display as ‘a steal’.
In other words, there were works in the auction by some of Kenya’s most esteemed (and pricey) artists whose paintings eventually sold for ‘a song’.
Of course, the paintings were relatively small in size but the value of an artwork is not necessarily determined by its size. (Just check out da Vinci’s Mona Lisa)
In that regard, one of the smallest works in the show was Rashid Diab’s, but his tiny oil painting commanded Sh120,000. And that was the highest any one painting went for that day.
There were bidding ‘wars’ for works like Rashid’s, Timothy Brooke’s, Peterson Kamwathi’s and Olivia Pentergast’s, the latter three all went for Sh100,000. The closest sale after that was Dennis Muraguri’s Matatu at Sh70,000 but that came after another mini-bidding war.
Otherwise, the only explanations I can surmise for why some of our leading artists didn’t sell for more is because the animal lovers are not conversant with (or interested in) the current art scene.
For instance, a sweet dog portrait by the doyen of Kenyan art, Yony Waite, went for just Sh30,000. So did the cat lady by Joseph Bertiers, the fish by Peteros Ndunde and the stitched aluminum piece by Dickens Otieno.
Several went for Sh45,000 like paintings Beatrice Wanjiku, Fitsum Behre’s dog and Florence Wanjui’s kittens. Richard Kimani’s Mask went for Sh50K and Peter Ngugi’s and Leena Shah’s both went for Sh40K.
But as the bidding began at Sh10,000, many of the works went for 15,000. They included a print by Thom Ogongo, a drawing by Eric Gitonga, a glass piece by Nani Croze and paintings by Elaine Kehew, Kamal Shah, Joseph Cartoon and (unbelievably) a drawing by Mandy Bonnell.
The one painting I wish I had bid on was by Anthony Okello whose contribution was a ‘collabo’ between himself and his two little girls. It went for a mere Sh20,000.
There’s probably a lesson to be learned from attending a silent auction. And that is, if you love Kenyan art, make sure you are there on the last day of bidding. You are likely to get amazing artworks for affordable prices.