By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 13 March 2019)
Justin Miriichi just got married. But it’s unlike any one of the three relationships portrayed in his latest psychological drama ‘Freefall’, staged last weekend by Back to Basics at Alliance Francaise, reflects anything like what he’s experienced thus far in his own married life.
That’s most obvious in the relationship between George (Tim Kinoo) and Joan (Daisy Temba) since they’re in love, but she refuses to marry him.
Meanwhile, wedlock for Henry (Nick Ndeda) and Alice (Wakio Mzenge) is also a far cry from the playwright’s own since he’s a newly-wed and this couple has been together nearly ten years.
And neither Constance (Mary Mwikali) nor James (Bruce Makau) bear any resemblance to Justin or Mildred since he’s not a freaky geek and she’s not a self-centered so and so.
In ‘Freefall’, all three couples are struggling with their unique dilemmas. In every case, the situation has gotten so challenging that they resort to seeing a therapist. The audience doesn’t see him/her however, since he’s invisible. But he provides a convenient means for each couple to come clean with whatever’s troubling them.
Miriichi’s written psychological dramas in the past, but one thing that makes ‘Freefall’ successful is that he includes just enough levity in each story so we don’t get overwhelmed by the heaviness that dramatic dilemmas can devolve into.
Another reason his play worked well is because not only are the three couples radically different, their stories surprising in their development. But all six actors are well-cast and strong enough to carry the load that Miriichi packs into every part.
For instance, we see Alice is seriously disturbed from the outset. She looks pregnant, but she’s not. She’s clearly emotional unstable to the point of exploding into venomous tirades against her spouse at the drop of a hat. And Henry gets pushed to the brink of reason as he seems to be speaking to a brick wall. But this complicated relationship couldn’t have worked if the actors, Wako and Nick, were not capable of capturing the psychological subtleties implicit in their characters’ conditions.
Equally, Constance and James are worlds apart when they arrive at the therapist’s office. She is exactly what Henry says she is, namely self-centered and overbearing. But as she alleges, he too is non-communicative. This is partly because he’s given up trying to get her to listen to him and partly because he’s found an online friend who not only listens but laughs at his jokes. So for the couple, therapy is painful. But again, both Mwikali and Makau give powerful performances. They even manage to credibly bridge their differences and reconcile, which lesser actors couldn’t easily do.
The one relationship that seems almost incredible is George and Joan’s, since we know many couples that have ‘come-we-stay’ relationships. But the avoidance of marriage in the legalistic sense is usually the man’s problem, not the woman’s. He’s often the one shy of commitment, not her. But with these two, it’s Joan who’s determined not to get bound by a legal contract. Her rationale could have been clearer, but apparently she doesn’t want to be robbed of her freedom.
In any case, she leaves George mystified and slightly miserable. Why, he reasons, if they live together, eat together and publicly profess they love each other, why won’t she let him ‘put a ring on it’ as Beyonce says. It’s not quite clear. In fact, this is the one relationship of the three that ends inconclusively. George is obviously dissatisfied, especially as he wants to start a family and she’s not game. We don’t find out if he gets so fed up and finally leaves. All we know is she’s unlikely to budge.
We can speculate that Joan has seen too many marriage bust up and she doesn’t want to risk the heart-ache. Or perhaps she’s got goals to fulfill that she knows she won’t do once she’s got children.
Either way, all three couples reveal aspects of Kenyans’ everyday private lives. That’s another reason ‘Freefall’ feels like Miriichi’s best script yet, and one that probably has the capacity to be staged and well received outside of Kenya and even overseas. It’s because he grapples with contemporary issues – of mental health, the meaning of matrimony, monogamy and even issues related to children, child birth, infertility and infidelity, all issues that affect relationships everywhere in the world.