After conducting an interview with its creator and sole performer, Tawiah M’carthy
, I suspected that the opening night of his play Obaaberima
would be brilliant — the actual production exceeded my expectations.
is, at its heart, a story about being honest with oneself. A young Ghanaian boy, Agyeman, is taunted for being girlish. A local male artist, Opayin, rescues him and the two form a bond. Opayin helps Agyeman find a way to express his femininity — by dressing as a woman — and this makes it more acceptable for Agyeman to have sex with Opayin. When Agyeman meets a young gay boy who wants Agyeman as a boy, not as a pretend girl, Agyeman is confused. When the situation goes wrong, Agyeman denies himself and heads to Canada for university, to study to become the heterosexual lawyer his parents intended him to be. His problems emigrate with him.
That is just the beginning of the plot. While it is a story about honesty — and a kind of coming-of-age/coming-out story — it is told in a complex and not at all clichéd way. Issues of gender and sexual orientation are mixed with complex cultural issues, and these issues are explored in two very different environments: Ghana and then Canada. M’carthy plays all six characters, gliding effectively between the gruff and hunched Opayin to the initially timid and boyish Agyeman to the adorably naive and girlish Phillippa to the painfully Canadian gay boy Elijah, from North Bay.
The set and costume are minimal, but M’carthy’s tour-de-force acting, the almost-magical lighting, and the music and sound effects transport the audience to two continents, a jail cell, Opayin’s dress shop, and other vividly evoked locales. Much of this is accomplished through the great rapport between M’carthy and musician Kobena Aquaa-Harrison. Aquaa-Harrison doesn’t just play the music; he sets the scene with an array of unusual instruments, sound effects and interactions between him and M’carthy. When M’carthy plays Phillippa singing in church, Aquaa-Harrison is not only the church music, but also the applause and the “hallelujahs” from the rest of the congregation.
is intensely funny, serious and sad — a fitting opening for Buddies’ 2012/13 season. It’s a thoroughly fulfilling and well-rounded emotional experience, and the chance to finally clap was orgasmic. There was a roaring standing ovation, so I know I wasn’t the only one with jizz in my pants.
Obaaberima runs till Sun, Oct 7 at Buddies, 12 Alexander St. buddiesinbadtimes.com