Liquid Entertainment’s latest production, titled Masks off And presented last weekend at the Kenya Cultural Center, it was an entertaining romp that also sent a mental health message destined to be taken seriously.
However, the mental health message was mixed with money, chaos, political machinations and masks that were worn by almost everyone in the play, and was written by Eric Munene.
The masks hide the faces, but also the hidden motivations of the people. On Masks offIt’s easy to see the secret motivations of the corrupt politician Mweshimiwa (Felix Peter) who literally throws money away as a means of getting more through devious tricks. It’s even easier to see the masked motives of Dr. Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, Deborah (Nora Adisa), whose heart broke when she left Charlie (Blaze Mathenge) at the altar to go after the wealthy politician.
In fact, almost everyone in the play keeps secrets behind a euphemistic ‘mask’. Ironically, it’s the newly hired waitress at Drew’s Hotel who seems to see through all the masks.
Drew’s Hotel is where all the action happens in Masks off And it’s Sophia (Vivian Nyawira) who doesn’t just provide the wonderful comic relief in the play. She also has a cunning ability to call out scam artists and women for their scams. It is practically unimaginable to think that he has the best hidden mask of all, which is only removed at the end of the work.
It’s Sophia who scolds the pregnant beggar (Mary Muthee) who scams Drew into getting free meals. She also sees the scam that Mweshimiwa and Charlie are setting up at Drew’s. The only clue to Sophia’s personal scam is the way she appears innocent as she seduces Drew into falling in love with her.
Masks off it can easily be seen as pure entertainment and comedy. It’s more likely to come off as a subtle satire as the show criticizes everyone from corrupt politicians like Mweshimiwa to killing queens like Deborah. There is even a hit in Covid regulations that triggered what mental health experts call the ‘trigger’ that could lead to dire circumstances.
Drew is upset that the closing rules will kill his small business. This is the reality of many SMEs that have closed completely due to the loss of their customer base during closing.
Before the pandemic, Drew seemed like a kind and compassionate guy who didn’t even seem to mind being scammed by his pregnant mother. In fact, he may be the only character in Eric Munene’s scripted play who does not wear a mask. Unfortunately, without that cunning cunning, he becomes the most vulnerable to a mental breakdown like the one we see at the end of the show.
What is the most peculiar and puzzling thing about Masks off They are the two inexplicable characters that open the play. It takes some time to figure out what role they have, as they don’t seem to be interacting with any characters. It turns out that they are meant to signify conflicting thoughts. But even after that seems to explain their erratic presence in the play, one cannot immediately discern the thoughts they represent. Whether they have a poor cast or an incorrect script, one cannot be sure that they are necessary characters in the story, as Drew himself is quite transparent. His intent is clear. You don’t have deep, dark secrets, just that you want to be successful in your business.
Well, they are both meant to mirror Drew’s thought process, with Steve Majestic representing Drew’s good conscience and Stella Napanu representing the bad.
Yet they seem disconnected from their man. They argue unnecessarily every time they appear. The only time their voices make sense is when they try to advise Drew during his apparent breakdown. They are unsuccessful as the so-called ‘catalyst’ for their collapse has already come in the form of Dr. Charlie bringing him a fake ‘official’ letter (part of the rich politician’s robbery plot) claiming that the Drew Hotel had to be inspected, and if he failed the inspection (performed by Dr. Charlie, who we already know has been bribed), he would be evicted. After that, the politician would take his place and build his real estate empire.
Finally, in Masks off, It is the comedy itself that masks the serious issues that are addressed in the show. The play doesn’t preach, but it definitely exposes how the little things in one’s life can trigger disturbing consequences. In Drew’s case, he becomes a possible killer. But Dr. Charlie survives and takes the millions that Drew left behind and found by the most cunning thief, Sophie.