NICHOLAS KAWINGA, Lusaka
THE Lusaka Playhouse last week played host to ‘Shades of My Village’, an Africa Directions Theatre Group production that was written and directed by Eric Kasomo Jr, an emerging astute young playwright and director on the theatre arts scene in the country.
A traditional social narrative, the play opens to a nostalgic school set, which took the audience to its long gone school days ambience and ‘mischief’; quite refreshing.
The school, is Chasauka Primary, though to many attendees, it registered as a secondary school – see the teenage learners, their uniform type and speech pattern; pure secondary stuff. However, the start and close performance acts are a half-heartedly choreographed dance reminiscent of Sarafina, a South African musical, enough to whet the audience to a show of the evening.
Well, in the same breath, one is forced to feel that before a production, loading the audience with how many awards and accolades, far and wide on earth the group or individuals could have won and traversed respectively, is just utter waste of time meant for a show. But again, modesty is virtue for even artistes to embrace. Try to keep the credits, honours and accolades in the theatre brochure and webpage for later perusal like is done elsewhere.
Anyway, the play is about three newly graduated young teachers sent to work in a rural area (somewhere) un-named, far from Lusaka and in a “wizard infected land”. The conflict arises when one of the young teachers Juma (Clive Nyirenda) makes pregnant a learner, Zinaida (Hawa Njovu) who is also a daughter of the most feared wizard in the area, Kamuzimu (John Phiri).
We enjoyed watching John play the uncompromising Kamuzimu, he managed to sustain and execute the role well, and he must have taken time to understand the task at hand, that of limping around and issuing thunderbolt threats about his wizardry gifts and the consequences of crossing his path.
Acksed Sakala played, Mbalule, an old fashioned teacher with a split personality, the man was a marvel and a great watch of the production. He never flinched to entertain, therefore, was a darling of the audience. He delivered well, though his character was given too much Nyanja lines in an English language play. Vernacular is good spice, it helps to localise the production but economy should be exercised. Anyways, Sakala for Mbalule was just a great show.
But of the three young teachers that carry the play – Zuze (Benjamin Phiri), Tembisile (Karen Chulu) and trouble-shooter Juma — we were left askance. Every time any of them met, they are angry and shouting at each other without any emotional build up. Why not allow them to talk, dialogue and reason with selves than always angry, shouting at each other like boys that are uncouth.
These were teachers that never talked like teachers, especially Juma and Zuze, just silly overgrown boys. No taste of a profession. Teachers, more so those fresh from college or university love to intellectualise, they show power of reason, but these had most proverbs misplaced and up to the wind. The language was very inconsistent. At some point, Juma insults Mbalule… “You uncircumcised lizard”, by implication he must himself be circumcised. But the Ngoni people that Juma repeatedly boasts of being part of never practice circumcision as a tradition rite. Come on, fact and fiction must be well interwoven in literary arts.
Writing and directing one’s own plays sometimes works out well, but in most cases, it comes with an artistic cost. A production is denied chance to benefit from a cross-breed of artistic talent, like a different eye to the text, to help analysis of both character and text. How are the characters speaking, is it to their assigned roles for instance? Even the general interpretation of the whole play, is it communicating to the theme? The art is enriched in the variety of perspectives, the make believe principle and other.
Like we wondered, how the school was managed in fear of the wizards in this area, where was the District Education Board Secretary (DEBS)? Was the office notified? What about when Juma is critically ill, be it very far, someone could mention the need to take him to hospital, even where the cure is within, we thought. The play left serious questions to be answered.
Well, without having to steal candy off the child, it was a brilliant effort though but too much energy went unstructured.
But it was the rowdy artistes that nearly stole the show away. Actors that need to know and respect the production in progress, kept running commentaries, clicking and rolling beer bottles, chatting and picking phone calls. In a crazy frenzy, shipping and consuming booze in the auditorium like someone had just tipped them that Zambia Breweries was closing shop the next day.
The Chinese people and a few muzungus in the audience must have gone back, in a shudder, wondering what human material God used to make these species. A too, too embarrassing lot. What a decay of theatrical respect!