By Margaretta wa Gacheru (13 February 2019)
Heartstring’s ‘Kenyan Forbidden Fruit’ isn’t so much about the apple that Eve tasted and then shared with her man.
It’s more about greed and the corrupting influence of money that one finds almost everywhere in society, from the medical services to the church to hoteliers who can break agreements at will whenever there’s cash or kickback involved.
In fact, one can leave aside the whole myth about Eve being the guilty party who brings down her man by passing him the ‘forbidden fruit’. I always wondered why she gets blamed when he’s the one who didn’t take responsibility for his actions, especially after God gave him the code of conduct, not her!
The forbidden fruit in Kenya is the careless greed that allows a man like Dr Ruwenzori (Paul Ogola) to misuse his position of authority as a medical man to disobey the Hippocratic Oath and sell his services – even in a public hospital where services are meant to be free and available to all - be they rich or poor.
Ruwenzori’s about to get married which is supposedly his motivation for charging a client (Nick Kwach) an exorbitant fee for blood the man’s young nephew desperately needs to stay alive.
We see the hydra head of greed rear its ugly head in church, even among the congregants who gather after a Sunday service to compare notes on churches and money-hungry pastors who cheat their parishioners of millions in the name of God.
The congregants, rather than standing aghast at the preachers’ criminal conduct, actually admire those who are able to squeeze cash out of their members.
They’re especially amused by one clergyman who hires his ushers to dress up as thugs and, immediately after the Sunday collection, storm the church and rob the pockets and purses of those who hadn’t put all they had in the alms plate.
Heartstrings rarely, if ever, exposes the flawed conduct of Kenyans without offering some sort of challenge or implied method of change.
In the case of the greedy MD who had no qualms about endangering people’s lives, he got his comeuppance from the wronged client who he charged a fortune for the blood his nephew requires.
Kwach’s character, coincidentally a lay church leader, finds the means (either by bribery, nepotism or social connection) to ‘pay back’ Ruwenzori by getting the hotel to cancel the MD’s wedding space so he can hold his own ‘medical fundraiser’ to raise the cash the doctor’s requires to buy the blood (which was meant to be free in the first place).
It’s a clever case that one can see as either vengeful on Kwach’s part or offering a moral lesson in that Ruwenzori’s made to reap what he’s sown for being merciless and mean.
Paul Ogola is at his best playing the unrighteous Ruwenzori who’s definitely lost his humanity as Kwach observes at the end. He’s managed to conceal his selfish insensitivity from his fiancée (Cindy Kahuha) up until the layman brings it to light.
The MD’s cleaner-receptionist (Mackryne Andala, as always is hilarious as she throws herself literally into every role she plays.
Adelyne Wairimu is also outstanding, being outspoken and challenging the church man (Maxwell Otieno) for trying to gloss over a member’s violent abuse of his wife with a prayer. She’s the ‘Wanjiku’-Every-woman who insists the time for cover-ups has passed; the church – and society generally -can no longer turn a blind eye on domestic violence.
My one problem with forbidden Fruit was its abrupt, anticlimactic ending. I would have liked to see some sort of resolution. Instead, we were left hanging.
Maybe cliff-hangers are okay. But we were left wondering, what’s next? Will the fiancée leave the MD or will she too turn a blind eye for the sake of social acceptability? I hope she leaves him or runs away with Kwach.
Meanwhile, Sarakasi Dome has become another theatre venue, moving beyond being mainly a site where tribal dancers and acrobats are trained to entertain tourists. Last weekend, it was where Jicho Four Productions dramatized Henry ole Kubet’s set text, ‘Blossoms of the Savannah’ for 15 local secondary schools who clearly enjoyed the story of two sisters: one (Joey Wanjiku) who defies tradition and pursues a forbidden love affair with her teacher, the other (Pauline Nyong’o) mistreated by her dad who cashes in by turning her into a child bride who suffers female genital mutilation (FMG). The message resonated well among the millennials in the audience.