‘Hustlers’ raising billions in the name of a worthy cause
No doubt, Heartstrings meant well in wanting to raise funds for their fellow actor, the late Maina Olwenya who recently passed on. After all, Maina was meant to be acting in the comedy, ‘In Whose Hands‘ that we just saw at Alliance Francaise this past weekend.
His death was sudden and came as a shock to us all. Tributes for his contribution to Kenyan film and theatre have been pouring into social media as the grief felt over Olwenya’s death has hit many like a tonne of bricks.
Nonetheless, the irony of Heartstrings’ devising a play in which four hustlers are busy raising billions in donor funding for a ‘worthy cause’ is peculiar. The request for audiences to contribute to Maina’s funeral expenses is sound.
Not so, the quartet in the play picked up on a popular photograph of a starving child who was so weak, emaciated, and malnourished that the vultures were already circling the kid. One bird, in particular, looked prepared to pick the little meat remaining on the boy’s bare bones.
The four are clever hustler-con artists who look like they have made an art out of tapping into donor funding. Their appeals go out, especially to Westerners, many of whom still hold the unfortunate stereotype that their donations will help the ‘starving children of Africa’.
The four are masters of the media as we see in the first few moments of the play when the MC, Pastor Baba (Tim Ndissi) introduces the other three. They’re recording their success story, framing a narrative that will appear to account for all the billions raised to revive the life of a child who was literally saved through their foundation’s well-funded efforts.
Such shrewd operators as these have literally made a fortune, setting up the Cornelius Foundation, named after the orphaned child (Fischer Maina) who they have not only resurrected from a near-death. He also became their cash cow in the process.
It began when the Pastor found the child and brought him to Dr Silver (Paul Ogola) who revives him medically by feeding and hydrating him intravenously and cleansing the boy’s blood.
After that, they introduce him to Mama (Adelyne Wairimu) who had an orphanage that raises the boy who they ensure never wants for anything except perhaps an exercise of his responsibility. Finally, there’s the ill-tempered Professor (Paul Ogutu) who looked after his education.
All four are beneficiaries of the boy’s upbringing. But their greed has gotten the best of them, and they are appealing to expand their foundation. What they don’t expect is for the boy, now 25, to revise his social status and come out from under their control.
It’s a shock to the gang of four. But they don’t disclose their displeasure to Cornelius (who now wants to start a donor-funded foundation of his own). Like every hustler, they are fast on their feet. They are quick to readjust their ‘Cornelius narrative’ based on the changing circumstances.
What makes them shut down their recording fast is Cornelius’s admission that he has a girlfriend, Laura (Bernice Nthenya), and he’s been with her for the last five years!
Laura and Corny have just moved to a new home. They swear their undying love for one another up until three of the four-some show up at their flat. Laura hasn’t a clue about her sweetheart’s past, so when they show up, she immediately revolts against these pushy patriarchal men.
Laura is a fighter and refuses the quartet’s scheme to get Corny married off fast — even though they technically don’t know about her pregnancy. Dr Silver tells her plainly that she needs to cooperate so they can revise Corny’s narrative.
But Laura is more than ‘fiesty’. She can’t escape getting forced to marry Corny the following day. But when he seems to side with the wazees and put her in second place, she is furious. Her departure is imminent, up until Corny makes his first independent decision. It’s to choose her over them.
They’re crestfallen for a moment, but once a scruffy-looking street child appears, they immediately see new prospects for fundraising — another child who needs a total makeover and fresh start. Now they are back in the business of raising billions to save the needy suffering ones in Africa.
It’s a game we see played every day, a style of sophisticated white-collar corruption that Heartstrings mirrors well in their play.