A young man confronts duelling male and female parts of his identity in the Buddies in Bad Times season opener, closing this weekend.
For Tawiah M’carthy, freedom is found in captivity.
In his solo show, Obaaberima, which closes this weekend at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, M’carthy plays Agyeman, a boy who discovers his sexuality by exploring both his feminine and masculine sides. The story follows him from the age of eight in Ghana to his mid-20s in Toronto.
The stage is stark—a hallway of grey prison cells, with M’carthy’s orange jumpsuit as the only dash of colour. It’s Agyeman’s last night in prison, and he takes the opportunity to tell his audience the story of his life. To do this, he uses spoken word, dance, and African music played by accompanist Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison, who is seated above a barred exit behind him.
Agyeman’s name means “Leader,” but on the schoolyard in Ghana he’s teased as “obaaberima,” meaning girl-boy (“obaa” is feminine, “oberima” is masculine). After trying on his mother’s clothes as a child, his teenage years bring more tumultuous experiences as two very different love interests appeal to two very different sides of his personality. At 18, he starts university in Canada without any of his identity issues resolved. He finds himself torn between vastly different lives: one as the fiancé of another Ghanaian student, and another as the live-in boyfriend of a Canadian man. It isn’t until Agyeman—now a law-school graduate—finds himself behind bars that he’s able to reconcile the two aspects of his personality by letting his female alter ego, Sibongile, out in all her glory, with her fluid dance movements, African chants, and uniquely styled orange jumpsuit.
With Evalyn Parry directing the production after a long time spent workshopping Obaaberima with M’carthy, the show is carefully constructed and the subject matter is tender. Camellia Koo’s set and Michelle Ramsay’s lighting are perfectly in sync, turning the Buddies stage from an austere prison to the forbidden bedroom where Agyeman has his first sexual encounter with a village tailor. The fluidity of the set adds to Obaaberima‘s theme of duality, and offers truly stunning visuals at the opening and closing of the show. It would have been nice if M’carthy had been able to fill the wide space more often. He’s not completely alone on stage, though. Aquaa-Harrison’s enthralling music makes its presence known throughout the show.
M’carthy himself is admirably skilled and precise in his movements, as he nimbly transitions from character to character for the majority of the play. Agyeman’s story, meanwhile, is sad and touching. But, unfortunately, it doesn’t leave an emotional impact. In the end, it’s the creative elements of the play—the music, the set, the dance, the songs—that moved us. As Agyeman made his grand exit out of his prison cell, we felt that his story was only just getting good.
Nonetheless, Obaaberima is a good start for a promising season at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, and a great start for Tawiah M’carthy’s career.