‘How to Have an Affair: A Scammer’s Guide‘ is a scandalously funny two-handed film starring Nice Githinji and Charles Oudo and directed by Nyokabi Macharia.
With such an evocative title you’d think the show would draw a full house every night, given that it was staged at Ukumbi Mdogo. And you would be right.
It was the debut of the play, adapted and indigenized by Shorts from Africa, the theater company that essentially developed the script, after drawing on a number of sources. But it was also the debut of Shorts from Africa launched by Nice and Nyokabi who started working together during Covid.
“We were both part of an experimental online theater project that brought together actors from all over the world,” says Nyokabi, naming the organizers of the project Balcony Arts. Their second project was titled “Shorts Around the World”, which inspired the two women to create shorts from Africa and later develop “a scammer’s guide”.
The show takes you inside the minds of two married people as they show exactly how “it’s done”, how to have an affair and effectively cheat the other interested parties. That may sound like a shockingly lewd premise on which to frame a play.
The eroticism itself implied in the title could be tingling and enticing to others. As it turns out, the track is both lewd and erotic, as well as cerebral and thought-provoking. Kendi (Nice) first raises the crucial question, why do women risk everything to chase after men they know will never marry?
Similarly, Harun (Charles) raises the disturbing question of why do men fool around in the first place? Could it be as simple as Harun suggests? He claims he’s had affairs with countless women simply because he can and because he loves women.
What’s troubling in his case is why men stop fooling around, which is a more unusual problem he’s faced with in The Impostor guide.
Well, not exactly. After his encounter with Kendi, he is stopped from cheating on more than one.
First, Harun takes on his usual role as the charming Casanova, who is an expert in the art of seduction. We watch her courtship game that makes her look confused and easy prey and he looks confident activating the sexy charm that usually blows her mind every time.
But in Kendi’s case, after two or three casual but impressive meetings, she drops all pretense and tells him she has the afternoon free and at his disposal.
The next scene is the culmination of sexual “shock and awe”; of cheerfulness and the unexpected. It’s a shock to see Kendi so outspoken, aggressive and insatiable at the same time. It’s also great because it’s so skillfully handled by set designer Muthoni Gitau and director Nyokabi Macharia.
They fabricate the glossy white translucent curtain behind which Kendi and Harun have their first intimate encounter, getting hot, hotter, hottest, with Kendi, the aggressor and intoxicator of Harun, who doesn’t know what hit him.
Speaking of set design, Muthoni put together a beautifully modern set, complete with an upright mattress and pillows that give a much more ‘innocent’ portrait of what’s going on between the couple.
Even the foyer of Ukumbi Mdogo was redesigned by Shorts from Africa as there was seating for early risers who had never found a place to sit before while waiting for the theater doors to open wide.
Ultimately, it’s the acting that makes The Cheaters’ Guide such a great achievement. Approaching such a sensitive subject with a sensitivity that tells a story that is seldom revealed.
It’s what happens in terms of the rise and fall (pun intended) of relationships and sexual liaisons that can never work because the initial passion and pleasure can never be sustained with the same intensity as that first connection. It can never trigger the same adrenaline that rushed through the scammers’ veins during that first “close encounter.”
Even the scammers’ affair can seldom maintain the initially suggested or hoped-for bond. Unfortunately, anyone who thinks otherwise is wrong. Not that marriage is the only option, but when children are involved it’s hard to stick to mpango wa kando if you have even a small sense of responsibility for the lives of the children.
Kendi eventually gives up on Harun because she finally sees him increasingly putting his family’s needs ahead of her own. How could it be any different?