It’s tempting to suggest you won’t enjoy ‘Voices of the Bible: Kings and Leaders’ nearly as much if you don’t have a slight grounding in the Bible, especially the Old Testament.
If you haven’t read about the trials and tribulations of men like Moses and Jeremiah or even John, who was exiled on the island of Patmos, then you won’t understand how brilliant Gillette Elvgren’s script is.
But if you love watching sterling performances by some of Kenya’s finest actors alive on our stage and screen today, then you won’t want to miss “Kings and Leaders” because these are the leading roles they play.
In fact, scriptwriter Gillette specifically focuses on the leading men in numerous scriptural tales. He amplifies their innermost feelings as they reflect on their lives, and the reasons they are in the Bible in the first place.
In Moses’s case, it’s to deliver God’s chosen children out of bondage in Egypt into the Promised Land which he is destined not to reach himself.
In the case of the prophet Jeremiah, it’s to lament the children of Israel’s neglect of their God and the tragic times they’ve gotten themselves in because of that forgetfulness of the blessings they received from Yahweh, their name for God.
And John’s the one who wrote those scary bits in Revelation, the meaning of which scholars have been trying to understand for centuries, especially what he ultimately sees in ‘a new heaven and a new earth’.
But even if you haven’t a clue about what happened to guys like Aaron (Sam Psenjen) or Eli (Steve Katingima) or even Uriah (William Mwangi) who dies so masterly on stage, declaring his loyalty to King David who’d just had him killed to conveniently snatch his wife), they all gave spellbinding performances.
And most everyone (even heretics and atheists) will have heard about Adam (Elsaphan Njora), Moses (Justus Mirichii), and Paul (Mugambi Nthiga), all of whom were equally riveting in their roles.
The lighting at Braeburn Garden Estate isn’t the best for this type of production. But sound-wise, the eight actors brought together in this Chemi Chemi Players production harmonized melodiously in acapella style on everything from popular Swahili hymns to one Black American gospel song to the show’s culmination with a deeply moving performance of Kenya’s National Anthem.
In fact, ‘Kings and Leaders’ is the kind of show that sticks in one’s head long after you watched it. It leads you to appreciate how deeply the scriptwriter delved into the innermost thoughts of those key characters. Of course, it can be seen as fiction since she didn’t know any of her characters personally.
But take a guy like Adam (Elsaphan Njora) who’s mainly remembered as the guy responsible for ‘the original sin’ of disobeying God. Elsaphan explores the loneliness that ‘first’ mortal man must have felt, having no one to talk to but Eve.
That same reflective, soul-searching point of view is seen in almost all the characters. They include everyone from Pharaoh (Kevin K1 Maina) who lost his first son, to Eli (Steve Katingima) the priest who also died on stage after confessing his ‘sin’, that of envy over young Samuel’s hearing the word of God directly, not him.
Yet the play has several surprisingly funny scenes, like the reenactment of a light-hearted Sunday School Biblically-based performance of the cast playing school boys overdramatizing their roles.
It started with Purah (Mugambi Nthiga) who drew us into his enchanting childhood recollection of his Sunday School reenactment of the story of Gideon (William Mwangi) and the angel (Kevin Maina) from the book of Judges.
The other comedic moment was captured by Sam Psenjen playing Matthew, the tax collector whom Jesus picked to follow him. Previously only seen as a corrupt tax man, even by Jesus’s own disciples who were shocked at their master’s selection, Matthew was philosophical in his light-hearted appraisal of how many ways people cheat themselves, and even cheat God.
‘Kings and Leaders‘ is very different from Chemi Chemi’s previous production of the all-women show, “Spread your Garment over me” which projected the lives and feelings of women characters in the Bible. The latter was a slightly more accessible script. But the quality of the casts and the direction by Julisa Rowe are the same.
What’s also amazing about this production, which will be running again this weekend (so don’t miss), many in the cast have moved over to making films. So, we’re happy to see them back on stage.