Heartstrings Entertainment didn’t quite meet our high expectations this past weekend when comedy gave way to tragedy as the company, best known for staging hilarious plays, performed a darkened version of Tit for Tat.
The darkness showed up in the first scene when the married couple, Joachim and Anastasia (Paul Ogola and Mackrine Andala) were meant to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.
But instead, they ended up having a verbal boxing match that resulted in both losing.
The scary thing is that Heartstrings tends to be attuned to the mood of ordinary Kenyans. So it could be that the bitterness that the couple convey towards one another in that first big ‘blowout’ fight might reflect some similar misunderstandings that couples find in their own marriages.
Whether that’s the case or not, the terribly personal insults that Joachim and Anastasia hurl at one another make any reconciliation between them virtually impossible.
Triggered by a tragic breakdown in communication between them, that hiccup leads to each one designing an anniversary dinner unbeknownst to the other. So when neither one arrives at the other’s event, it sets off verbal fireworks.
All the previously unspoken disappointments and unfulfilled dreams, built up over the years, erupted in a volcanic-like explosion of abuses that were amusing at first.
But then, when the game of ‘tit for tat’ sets in and each one keeps one-upping the other with deeper-wounding cuts, the verbal battle gets psychologically bloody.
At least, their war isn’t physically. Joachim doesn’t try to beat Anastasia. But if he had, there’s no doubt she would have fought back.
Nonetheless, one can’t help feeling Joachim’s ego gets hit hard when she attacks his ‘manhood’. She does it on purpose, reflecting the degree to which she too has been wounded by him, especially when he cut off her communication lines on social media.
The rest of the play is all about him trying to get back at her through their daughter (Jerita Mwake). According to Anastasia, he has been pretty much an absentee dad. But now, he apparently tries to make up for that. In fact, he’s out to compete with the mum.
Their ‘tit for tat’ tactic of parental warfare comes to a head after the daughter wins a trip to South Africa and Joachim applies to accompany her. But Anastasia has applied too, which makes more sense since she’s raised the child.
The climactic moment in the play comes after friends assemble to see off their daughter. But when she arrives at the festivities, she’s clearly crestfallen. Nobody seems to notice, not even her mother.
When she reveals the document stating that her trip has been cancelled due to discrepancies, it is clearly the parents’ fault.
The daughter nails it on the head when she tells them it’s due to their selfishness and putting their self-interests above all else that she’s lost her chance.
The play’s ending is inconclusive as the parents make a half-hearted attempt to shake hands. But the damage has already been done.
Heartstrings once again points to a social problem current in Kenya today. Many relationships are in trouble.
So their comedy couldn’t help reflecting a contemporary tragedy. One only hopes audiences got the message and saw they need not pursue the ‘tit for tat’ tactic in their own relationships.