OBAABERIMA written and performed by Tawiah M’carthy, directed by Evalyn Parry. Presented by Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). Opens tonight (Thursday, September 20) and runs to October 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Sunday 2:30 pm. Pwyc-$37. 416-975-9130. See listing.
Coming out has a multitude of meanings for Ghana-born Tawiah M'carthy, who opens the Buddies season with his solo show Obaaberima.
The expression refers to sexual awakening and self-acceptance, notes M'carthy, but also to his coming into his own as a theatre artist.
"The idea for the show began as a 12-line poem I wrote in 2008, in which a boy stands in his mother's high heels and falls in love with how he looks," he recalls. "I brought the poem to the Buddies Young Creators Unit (YCU) and worked to turn it into a play."
With the help of dramaturge and director Evalyn Parry, M'carthy's created the story of Agyeman, a youngster whose parents hope he'll grow up to be either a minister or a lawyer. With the help of the tailor Opayin, he discovers his female side (in Ghanaian, Obaa), whom he names Sibongile; she's the counterpart to his male aspect (Oberima). The combination of the two aspects provides the play with its title.
"The word ‘agyeman' means leader, and his parents have the hope that he will change his country. But as he grows up, Agyeman shyly discovers he's not like other boys. He learns more about both sides of himself not just from Opayin, but also from Nana Esi, a sophisticated classmate who's spent a lot of time abroad."
Sibongile, who becomes the tale's narrator, is everything Agyeman is not. Female, confident, strong and tough, she says exactly what's on her mind.
But the boy's discovery of his two sides is literally only half the story. At its midpoint, Agyeman moves to Canada, meets the woman who might become his wife and gets involved with a white man who encourages him to come out to others.
"I'm often asked if this is my life story, but it's not," says M'carthy. "Some of my own experiences are there, but I've blended people I knew back home and here in Canada and added other elements as well."
The production has him playing multiple characters; in that way it's stylistically parallel to native writer Waawaate Fobister's hit Agokwe, which also came out of the YCU.
"It was hard at first to find the various people," admits M'carthy, whose previous solo show was The Kente Cloth in 2008. "I had to find their physicalities, their voices, how they sit, speak, touch the ground. Then it was a matter of layering the various physical elements onto the intentions of the characters, mostly what they want but can't have."
The result is a multidisciplinary production that relies on music, song and dance to tell the tale of a young man's journey into his outer and inner worlds.
"I see it as a continuing theme in my work, that of reintroducing yourself, your true self, to those around you.
"In Ghana we have the idea of out-dooring, which is the naming ceremony for an infant," he says. "The process of creating Obaaberima has been a similar rite of passage for me, finding the confidence and showing who I am, both as a man and as an artist."