Obaaberima opens Thurs, Sept. 20 at Buddies
“They’ve been great in giving me room to speak without judgment,” says Ghanaian-Canadian Tawiah M’carthy in reference to the Young Creators Unit (YCU) at Buddies. M’carthy is the creator of, and sole performer in, the play Obaaberima, which kicks off the 2012/13 Buddies season. Obaaberima started as the poem Red High Heels, which he submitted to the YCU in 2008. It grew into a 20-minute play with four characters and debuted at the 2008 Rhubarb Festival. From there it gradually expanded into a longer piece with six characters, and, after another Buddies workshop in 2011, M’carthy was told he would be going to the main stage.
A key part of completing the production was the inclusion of Ghanaian-Canadian musician Kobena Aquaa-Harrison in 2011: “It was great to have him there because he understood a lot of the things that I was talking about culturally, and it was great to have him be able to create a sound that supported and moved the play.”
In the play, Agyeman, a young Ghanaian, tells his story from a Canadian jail cell, where he has been for three years. It is the eve of his release, and because he has gone through a kind of change in prison he wants to give a testimony for his life. “It’s kind of like a confession; he feels like if he does that, then nothing is hidden, and he can live a whole new life [when he is released].”
“His whole life has been based on lies,” M’carthy says. Agyeman grew up in Ghana, where a young man must go through strict developmental phases, culminating in marriage to a woman. Homosexuality does not exist culturally. Agyeman is effeminate and knows he does not want to marry a woman.
“He finds himself kind of lost because he does not fit into his society,” M’carthy says.
“At a very early age he finds himself torn between two relationships, one that’s very traditionally based— an older gentleman teaches him about the traditions of Ghana and the rites of passage— and another, a young boy who tells him about a whole new world he’s only heard about.”
Fleeing from himself, Agyeman travels to North America for school. The issues that he refused to deal with follow him to the West, and the resultant emotional volatility leads to the events that cause his imprisonment. While imprisoned he’s surrounded by other young black men and thinks, “this is the lowest I can get; this is not how I’m supposed to represent young black men in North America.” This leads to great inner change and the eventual desire to tell his story.
While M’carthy knows what it’s like to "come out" as a young man from Ghana, this story is not about him. The story is pieced together from things he knows or can extrapolate, and a desire to help people who are just finding themselves: “In telling this story I hope I’m setting an example for younger black queer men, not only in Canada but Ghana. I just hope it could save a lot of heartache.” Many men who have sex with other men have trouble incorporating this into their identity. M’carthy says, “You can be yourself. It doesn’t take anything away from you being a man, it doesn’t take away anything from you being black, it doesn’t take away anything from you being African, and it doesn’t take anything away from you being Ghanaian. If anything it adds to who you are.” —Jeremy Willard
Obaaberima runs Sat, Sept 15-Sun, Oct 7 at Buddies, 12 Alexander St. PWYC-$37. buddiesinbadtimes.com