Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Obaaberima is Insightful in its Powerful Storytelling

By Neil Armstrong
A Review

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh  Tawiah Ben M'Carthy in the production Obaaberima at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.


In the hands of Tawiah Ben M’Carthy, Obaaberima is a masterpiece drawing us into his powerful storytelling, superb acting, and the skillful interweaving of live music, lighting and set design in its execution.

The writer and performer uses his voice, movement and dance to transport us from the present into the past ( a flashback for us to understand the now), and to play not only the central character, Agyeman, but also the roles of multiple characters in Agyeman’s life.

Imprisoned in Canada for committing a violent crime, a young man from Ghana tells his cellmates a story on the eve of his release. While there is risk in sharing his tale, he must tell it to be truly free. Through storytelling, dance, and live music, Obaaberima chronicles a young African-Canadian’s journey across continents, gender, race, and sexuality.

M’Carthy’s theatricality on stage evokes the moods that enhance the story of Obaaberima – from the curtailment of cultural mores to fully express one’s self, to the acceptance of self and living authentically.

When translated from the Twi dialect in Ghana, obaaberima is a derogatory slang term which means girlboy or girly-boy.

While Agyeman enthralls us from a prison cell, his embodiment of all the characters from his childhood to his adulthood, in Ghana and in Canada, and grappling with gender, race, and sexuality underscores the mastery of M’Carthy’s performance.

Agyeman tries to understand the duality of his sexual identity and the roles or masks he wears to fit into places while hiding his ‘otherness.’

In Obaaberima, the main character notes that where he is from in Ghana when a child is born the child is kept indoors for seven days.

“If that child makes it through the first week, then the beginning of their life is marked by a ceremony called “outdooring”: a naming ceremony at which the child is brought out of the house, is introduced to family, friends, and the community,” says Agyeman in the opening of the play.

M’Carthy plays the roles of Opayin, a tailor, Sibongile (Agyeman’s female alter ego), and Nana Osei, a male schoolmate, both of whom he falls in love with but eventually loses in his deceitful efforts to be with both.

In Canada, he continues this dual role by loving Ayele, a Ghanaian woman and Elijah, a Canadian man from North Bay.

The cycle of deceit continues until Agyeman realizes that he has to do his own revelation and decides to reintroduce himself to the world as Sibongile.

“This is my outdooring. The doors are about to open, and I can no longer slide through. The doors are about to open, and I need to be seen. Watch me walk,” says Sibongile at the end.

Photo credit: Jeremy Mimnagh  Tawiah Ben M'Carthy in Obaaberima which runs until December 9, 2018 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto.


The live music of award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison complements the narrative aptly and the direction of Evalyn Parry expands the action within the restrictive to an expansive imagination of this journey.

The creativeness of set and costume designer Camellia Koo and lighting designer Michelle Ramsay adds to the dramatics that unfold onstage.

After its successful premiere in 2012 and winning three Dora Awards in 2013 for outstanding production, outstanding sound design/composition, and outstanding lighting design, it is fitting that Buddies in Bad Times Theatre chose to include Obaaberima in its 2018-19 season.

It’s a wonderful production worth seeing and M’Carthy deserves every accolade he has received since his creation hit the stage in 2012 and has toured across Canada.

Obaaberima, which was the first show to have been developed through Buddies residency program, runs until Sunday, December 9 at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre.

It’s a must-see event in Toronto -- go see it before it ends. M’Carthy has chosen to chart his own course in this unique production. I can’t wait to see what next he’ll offer us in the future.


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