KARIUKI'S NOTEBOOK

performance schedule:
February 14 to March 11, 2002
First Floor Theatre
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday Matinee at 2:30pm
$15.00


"Kariuki's Notebook" is the second play to come out of the Kenyan experiences of New York playwright Rick Gray, who last year performed his own Spalding Gray-style monologue, "The Impossible Safari," at HERE. Rick is no relation to Spalding, and except for the setting and some shared culture shock, there is also not much kinship between the plays, either, since "Kariuki's Notebook" is of a totally different genre from its predecessor. It is a Shepardesque surrealist work with seven featured characters about the power of language and how it can bind people of different cultures with humorous misunderstandings. The play also combines elements of farce and traditional African story-telling and will feature an African and American cast and a chorus from the Harlem School of the Arts. Director is Sonoko Kawahara.

During his Peace Corps service, working as an English teacher, Rick Gray was posted in a rural area of Kenya named Ol Kalou, in the central highlands. It's in the heart of what the British called Happy Valley, where Kikuyus were resettled on Masai land right after Kenyan independence in 1963. The Masai are still furious about getting thrown out--they'd like to graze their cows there. There are still some whites there, descended from the colonials; there are also a few Masai mixed in with the Kikuyus, so there's always some tension. Where modernity exists, it has always been rudely imposed, and that, in essence, is the through line of "Kariuki's Notebook." In Kenya today, modernity means the imposition of Colonial (read: English) language and arts onto a population who are often fascinated by its novelty, but whose rich language, imagery and storytelling tradition will always poke through.

The clash of languages in the young is the relish of "Kariuki's Notebook," which could only have been written by an English teacher. On the site of a demolished high school (read: the new world and its good intentions), razed for a resort hotel (read: the new world and its good intentions), even the Kikuyu kids are being dressed up in Masai robes to make them more "authentic" in the eyes of Western tourists. An English teacher named John Wolfe (read: Rick Gray) has been sent home by the Peace Corps, but he just won't give up on his superidealistic commitment to reach the kids. So he's being brainwashed out of this obsession by an American expatriate doctor (who tries to force Valium on him) and a British game warden (who later shoots him with a tranquilizer dart to make him chill out). Into this conflict appear a Kenyan teacher and a throng of Kikuyu students, who read from the notebook of Kariuki, John's best pupil, in an enthusiastic demonstration of their love of language and stories. A rich American soap opera actress named Leona Green gets taken on a fake safari, acts out the story of the Black Cat from Kariuki's notebook and is artistically revived. The power of the book, with its story based on a classic Kenyan folk tale, is so strong that it takes the book's being shot by the game warden's rifle to break the spell and land John back in Washington in a treatment center. He has been, it seems, just plain addicted to Africa.

A fundamental joy of this play is its interweaving of the African kids' dialects with those of the moderns' and the charming misunderstandings caused by the mixed syntax and odd reflections of word usage. While "The Impossible Safari" was Gray's reflection on manhood (his own, asserting itself as an uncomfortable lust for his African students), "Kariuki's Notebook" is mostly about the newly-adapted English language of the Kenyan people, and how it sticks in your ear and claims you whether you are there or not. Rick Gray freely admits being influenced, in this work, by the early plays of Shepard, with their free-wheeling poetry and their kooky dramatic construction.

"Kariuki's Notebook" was a finalist for the in the National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in 1997 and 2000.

The actors are David Townsend, Chris Roberts, John-Charles Kelly, Kris Kamau (who is actually Kikuyu), Corrine Edgerly, Bridgit Evans and Robert Lee Taylor. The Greek chorus of Kikuyu students (ages 12-16) is played by their academic counterparts in the Harlem School of the Arts and includes Shandrika Barlow, Jilliannie Hamburgo, Diamond Hammond, Tiffany Harris, Michelle Jimenez, William Mallory, Diana Mendez, Britney Trigg and Brittany Wood. Set design is by David Korins, lighting design is by Lapp-Chi Chu, costume design is by Miranda Hoffman and sound design is by Tim Schellenbaum.

Rick Gray, as an actor, has appeared at SoHo Rep, HERE, and LaMaMa, where he was seen last season in Mike Taylor's "The Sadness of Others." Beside Kenya, he has taught English in Saudi Arabia and New York City, where he currently lives.
Director Sonoko Kawahara worked in professional theater in Tokyo as an actor, dancer, designer, and producer. In New York, she has directed at PS 122, Women's Project and Productions, HERE and other theaters. She was awarded Best Director from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival for "Baggage by Cohen" at Theater for the New City. She was the assistant director to David Petrarca for "Fuddy Meers" at Manhattan Theatre Club and to Anne Bogart for "Private Lives" at Actors Theatre of Louisville. She is a recipient of the Fall 1999 Directing Fellowship from The Drama League and was recently selected for the artist of The Fund for Women Artists Theatre Roster program. She is also a "Usual Suspect" of New York Theatre Workshop and a member of Lincoln Center Directors Lab and Women's Project and Productions' Director Forum. She has been a visiting director at Fordham University Theater Department. She holds an MFA in directing from Columbia University School of the Arts.
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