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.

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