Actress Zippy Okoth deserves a medal for her performance in Stranger in My Bed which she staged for a second time this past weekend at Pawa254.
She deserves the medal first because she dared address a whole range of stigmas that women the world over face related to marriage and divorce, the code of silence that many women endure even when they’re horribly mistreated.
DISPLAY OF COURAGE
She deserves it for the courage she displayed in taking on the stereotypical traps that women fall into, revealing their folly for believing in foolish delusions like ‘mills and boons’ styled ‘romantic love’ and fairy tale versions of ‘living happily ever after.’
The first time I saw Zippy perform her one-woman show (at Kenya National Theatre which was too cavernous a context to reveal the nuances of this intimate story), I didn’t see that she was intentionally over-dramatising the love-struck little Zippy who fell head over heels for her ‘Mr Right’, Ricky. I didn’t recognise that the sappy star-struck love was meant to look rather foolish.
In fact, I came late to last Saturday night’s show because I hate to see girls grow up believing their lives are meant to be fulfilled by the perfect guy, or even the not-so-perfect guy.
I arrived after Zippy was ‘pregnant’ and reflecting on what the perfect marriage was meant to be, and how she actually knew early on that she wasn’t in one, but she was going to hang on just the same. It would be her cross to bear, to “make the marriage work.”
For some women, especially in religious circles, divorce is a taboo topic. It doesn’t matter if the woman is beaten bloody, betrayed by a man who breaks his vows and robs the woman at every level (emotionally, financially, socially and dignity-wise).
The woman is still meant to stay. She is also supposed to put on a happy front of marital bliss even when her home is a battle ground and she’s the loser in all ways.
‘HELL IN HEAVEN’
Zippy spilled the beans on married women whose life is hell, but pretend it’s heaven.
That too is taboo, the taboo of, as a wife, telling the truth. And if a woman tells her truth, as Zippy has done, (with her director telling us on Saturday night that the play is autobiographical, as if we didn’t know), then she is meant to suffer all the more, this time with the stigma of being a tell-all traitor to her fellow married women.
What was really painful to watch in the play was when, after being beaten severally and being accused by her cheating spouse of having killed her own child through her ‘carelessness’, she continued to go back to Ricky.
It’s painful to watch, not just because Zippy is a passionate actress who performs from the heart. It’s painful because she mirrored the experience of so many unhappy women who believe they are bound to live as slaves and guilty parties.
Perhaps one of the most stunning moments in the play, and one I apparently missed the first time round is Zippy’s suicide attempt.
The fact that she also addresses this other highly stigmatised experience, that of attempted suicide (which I was recently reminded is a criminal offense that can send someone to jail) is one more reflection of how much courage and conviction the actress has.
In this instance, Ricky saves her life, but only after kicking in the bathroom door, the one she had locked in order to escape his brutal, life-threatening beating.
It’s a shocker to realise that a woman can feel she’s so trapped that she has no way out other than taking her own life. But a myriad of women must feel a similar sort of despair when they feel they’re not allowed to be free of a loveless marriage.
Ricky saves Zippy’s life not because he loves her, but because he feels he owns her (we never heard if he paid the dowry). She’s his property just as the dead baby was. It’s a hard reality that women may not wish to realize, but certainly, watching ‘stranger in my bed’ must give a slew of married, or even single women second thoughts about either getting married or staying married.
This must be why Zippy’s play has generated a bit of controversy. Some women are said to have boycotted the play because they didn’t want to hear from a woman stigmatised by divorce.
But what Zippy shows with her performance is that it’s far better to live with that stigma than to remain a slave; better to be looked down upon by some social circles for being so frank and honest about your life experience in wedlock than to be dead.
Zippy’s production proves that it’s better to be a survivor who can live to tell the tale and get a medal (at least from me) for it than to live a lie and to not practice the first code of conduct that every mother should teach her daughter or son, which is to ‘be true to yourself.’ Or as William Shakespeare put it, “This above all, to thine own self be true.”