ñOBAABERIMA by Tawiah Ben M’Carthy (Buddies in Bad Times, 12 Alexander). Runs to December 9. $20-$40. 416-975-8555. See Continuing, page 33. Rating: NNNN
As the first show to emerge from the Buddies Residency Programme, this remount of Tawiah Ben M’Carthy’s Dora Award-winning solo show is a stunning example of raw storytelling that examines gender and sexuality through a novel lens.
Both playwright and performer, M’Carthy portrays a confident, queer man from Ghana inside a Canadian prison cell sharing the story of how he got there.
As a child he was bullied by fellow children as an “Obaaberima,” which translates roughly as “girlboy” – a kind of social outcast. His story traces his need to explore these dual forces within himself – he identifies as both man and woman – as he struggles against, and often caves to, aggressive social pressures.
M’Carthy’s use of his body and voice is nuanced and authentic, from the deliberate way he walks in his mother’s heels, to his erotic transformation during his first sexual experience, to the calculated performance of masculinity in adulthood. His characterization of adjacent roles is equally impressive, bringing to life a vivid set of characters. The only one that feels off-balance is Elijah, his boyfriend, who comes off as too cartoonish.
Evalyn Parry’s careful direction has ensured each aspect of the production contributes to the atmosphere, creating a powerful experience.
Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison sits a level above the stage, providing precise musical accompaniment as well as occasional sound effects, fleshing out the emotional landscape. Camellia Koo’s set consists of a jail cell door that extends up in front of Aquaa-Harrison, setting the scene of literal and figurative prisons, but also opening the space for M’Carthy to fill. Michelle Ramsay’s lighting design offers emotional undertones for some intimate moments and stark contrasts and dimension for more intense confrontations.
It is difficult to reject rigid norms, but the final scenes of the play, in which M’Carthy radiates a deep existential freedom, remind us why it’s worth it.
Tawiah Ben M’Carthy examines gender and sexuality in award-winning Obaaberima.