''In the Continuum and Other Plays'' (Weaver Press, Harare) is a collection of English plays with themes that respond to some of the socio-cultural challenges being faced today on a global scale.
Issues of identity, women and AIDS, corruption and the condition of street-children have taken centre stage at various levels of our lives.
This schools-version collection contains four plays by Mirirai Moyo, Kathlene McCreery, Jide Olubenga Afolayan and co-authors Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter. Rory Kilalea, an actor and theatre/film educator, edited the plays and ''prefixes'' each play with an introduction, relevant questions, notes, prompts for actual stage performance, all suitable for the school environment.
A play or drama, whether it goes on to be staged or filmed, has its own magical touch when it comes to communicating with the audience. While the relationship between a novel or short story and a reader is one-on-one, a play has a wider base of communication with its audience as it can be for radio, television, or the stage and in all these forms it appeals differently to the audience through its visual and social impact.
However, when a play is published in print and we have to imagine the characters and plot through dialogue and stage directions, it is interesting to note the intellectual demands it makes which are very similar to the demands of the novel or short story. In print, the ''theatre'' in the play happens in the mind, with help from the few words (dialogue and stage directions) offered by the caring, skilled playwright.
The play by Mirirai Moyo is titled ''Belonging''. It's a radio play which editor Kilalea describes as an exploration of identity. And established writer Shimmer Chinodya, in his blurb, says the play is "the most original and inventive".
True, Moyo uses personification and in the play there are chickens and hyenas as representatives of two very distinct societies. An effort to co-exist is made to show how understanding other societies can promote peace and happiness. In the two societies there are different accepted traditions which the young ones must follow and yet, our hero named Kuku, a reddish brown wild hen, constantly questions the traditional life of chickens.
After reading ''Belonging'', its total effect is felt through the questioning spirit of Kuku and how much she has to suffer in search of her identity. At home, her mother Mama Kuku has bowed down to the accepted norms that uphold some and oppress others in the same community.
Moyo manages to create impressive life-like characters to bring out an interesting inter-play of themes. Gender and identity is an example. Kuku challenges the patriarchal domination by Jobo, the rooster.
When she befriends Bere, an ageing hyena and leader of the pack, she feels safe mainly because Bere understands her difference from the other chickens. Yet, Kuku knows she will never be a hyena. Where then shall she find her true self?
''Power Failure'' by Jide Olubenga Afolayan is also a radio drama but humorously exploring the impact of power cuts on the ordinary people. The play is set in Odion's village home in Nigeria. Odion has left the city to live in his village home and the substance of the play is in his vivid re-telling of events leading him to decide to give up the city.
Odion is held in high respect in the village and when asked by his uneducated friend Osama why he left the city, he begins to narrate his story through the ensuing scenes. His hospitalised son nearly dies because of a power-cut at the hospital. A reader is touched by the shameless Mr Adeshola, manager of the local electricity station in the city who accepts bribes and decides who gets electricity and for how long.
It is common now in African societies to ''humourise'' certain problems but as much as Odion tells his story in comic flashback scenes, he is a disappointed person. He seems to affirm that what city-dwellers call (technological) progress or good life is after all not what it is but merely the proliferation of challenges from which the rural folk is immune.
The play ends with a surprise turn. Odion, who is holding Mr Adeshola at gunpoint to force him to switch on electricity at the hospital, only realises after his wife arrives at the scene that Mr Adeshola is actually a relative.
Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter who co-authored the title play ''In the Continuum'' tackle the sensitive issue of women and AIDS through a highly artistic form of play writing. Characters occasionally change into other characters and the play runs on parallel settings in Los Angeles and Harare.
The power of this play lies in its use of different mixtures of language to capture character and mood. One feels the ambiance of the totally different places through the characters' conversations sometimes with other off-stage characters.
Much skill was indeed put in bringing forth such an unusual form of a play and its performance is likely to grip the audience!
''When I Meet Your Mother'' by Kathleen McCreery is as deeply touching as ''Belonging'' by Mirirai Moyo. Although the two plays are different in many ways, the characters who are young or children are in a journey of searching for their real selves, their deserved freedom.
McCreery's play is set in the streets of Brazil and it gives the reader an inside understanding of the simultaneous sense of loss and hope that street children have, whether in Brazil or elsewhere.
Kuku, the ''young" hen in ''Belonging'' is a distant embodiment of the loss and hope found in ''When I Meet Your Mother''. Kuku is driven out of her community because of her desire to just be more than a chicken, to discover her real self.
The street kids in ''When I Meet Your Mother'' are outcasts, driven out of society by poverty, neglect, abuse or other forces. The narrator in ''When I Meet Your Mother'' is like an observing poet, descending with profound poetic interjections at a particular point in any scene.
Street children named Ana, Antonio, Cesar, Christine, Luis, Marco, Priscilla and Renata, have moments of fun and laughter which they carve out of the fears and insecurities of their desperate lives. There is a great fear of secretly being wiped out of the Brazilian streets by any means, there are adults lurking in the dark, ready to pounce on the girl characters Renata and Ana, death is a friend as sometimes the kids are shot by the police or acid poured on them while they are asleep on the pavements.
As the play nears its end, there is jubilation when the seven street children listen to the news on their newly ''acquired'' radio about a massive awareness campaign done by other street kids across the country to force parents and government to be responsible.
There is sadness that closes the whole play as Ana and Luis, close friends, walk hand in hand away from the rest of the gang but just when you think love is in the air, something happens that suddenly makes the whole scene dark and leaves you hanging.
That these plays use young characters, thoughtful themes and the supplementary expert guidance for performance, will do much in inspiring the Zimbabwean students to engage in play writing and acting.
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