Obaaberima: a derogatory term meaning girlyboy or girl boy.
There is theatrical magic on stage in Buddies in Bad Times Theatre's latest offering that opened the season last night. It’s called Obaaberima, a one man show written and acted by newcomer Tawiah M’carthy. He’s one to watch.
The story is simple but rich. We are in a Canadian prison cell where a Ghanaian immigrant is at the end of a three year term. He is about to be released but before that happens he has a story to tell us, his fellow prisoners. It a story told in African traditional ways of his growing and complicated sexuality while in Ghana and later here.
As a boy he was attracted to femininity, to wearing dresses and heels. On moving to Canada he became involved with the church, then with a woman, who wants to marry him, then boys, then the down low meet-up scene, then a steady relationship which ends badly, then a violent incident which leads him to the cell we are in. But really, it becomes clear, the whole story is about cells we inhabit, dwell in and move on. Sexuality is always a moving object.
How much of this is autobiographical is not clear but Tawiah tells this story of twisting and conflicted sexuality with conviction and the utmost confidence. He looks the audience literally in the eye and owns it.
It is an intimate experience to share this story with him, full of nuance and detail. Tawiah is an accomplished young actor, switching multiple characters quickly and effortlessly, playing two sides of a conversation like a musical instrument. It’s most fin with his boyfriend, who is white and straight and can’t dance. It’s also fun to see him toy with his feminine side which bubbles throughout the play - he wears his orange prison uniform in a decidedly unorthodox way – and then turns quickly butch on us. He is very, very good at this and watching his already tightly honed acting skills up close is one of the main attractions of this story-telling piece.
Although it's a one man show, there is a lot going on here. We have the spoken word, we have dance and movement, we have an original African score from on stage musician Kobena Aquaa-Harrson that’s simply astonishing. It’s a nice looking production too. The prison set is effective, lit imaginatively lit throughout by Michelle Ramsay to suggest multiple locations. Very clever work, this. And Evalyn Parr directs as usual with a very steady hand to draw the best out of her young star.
While Obaaberima strikes me as hugely important for the immigrant queer community to see and identify with - hell, even I identified with it – this is a show with wide appeal. I hope it does well. Go see it.
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre presents
created and performed by Tawiah M’carthy
directed by Evalyn Parry
live music by Kobena Aquaa-Harrison
set and costumes by Camellia Koo
lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Previews September 15,16, 18 & 19 | Opening Night September 20 | Closes October 7
Runs Tues-Sat 8pm, Sun 2:30pm
Tickets PWYC - $37
Box Office 416-975-9130 or buddiesinbadtimes.com
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street, Toronto ON