Created and Performed by Tawiah M’Carthy
Directed by Evalynn Parry
Live Music by Kobena Aquaa-Harrison
Set and Costumes Designed by Camellia Koo
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
September 15 – October 7, 2012

I once a taught a teenager who had just moved to Toronto. He was completely different from the others.  For one, he was Ghanaian, and I imagine the only African in what was a predominantly white, yuppie and homogenized suburb. He was tall and majestically handsome, yet his beautiful eyes were often downcast.  His voice was soft and gentle, almost too soft, with the melodic dialect of English-speaking gold coast Africa.  He was extremely courteous and painfully shy, a little sad perhaps, a little lost and a lot confused.

He didn’t know where he belonged.  His name was Ben.

Last night, that shy, beautiful Ghanaian boy stood with his back to me, caged behind steel bars and concrete walls.  Suddenly, there was a sound from him. It was powerful, and primal, and cut through time and space.   I realized it was not the boy Ben who spoke.  It was the adult, the actor, the creator, the great story-teller Tawiah.  He is no longer defeated, but now proud, strong and defiant, no longer a prisoner, but a soul on the verge of freedom.  He is Obaaberima, half woman, half man, created in the image of God.  He is there to take us on his journey.

From that first primal cry, to the final haunting image, Tawiah held me and the rest of his audience and never let us go.  This was the story of a young African man, who struggles between two continents with his  race, gender and sexuality.  It is a prisoner’s confession the eve before his release: a rant, a memory, a dance, a song, a poem, a chronicle and a journey.  Half a dozen characters of all ages and genders come to life through the story-telling, but none more layered, dynamic or human than the storyteller himself.

Poetically written and brilliantly performed, I am overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of Tawiah’s talent.  He possesses a resounding wisdom, spirituality and other-worldliness and yet there is still a very strong connection to our collective consciousness and vulnerability.

The play Obaaberima is further brought to life by the seamless integration of traditional music composed and performed live by the master-percussionist Kobena Aquaa-Harrison.   As Kobena explained, “Music, song, dance, costume, lighting are all integral to West African story-telling,” and so it was last night.  Carried by the sounds of the gyil, atumpan, ashiko, and frikyewa,  we were magically transported to the plains and villages of West Africa.

Tawiah graciously proclaims the production was a collaborative creation and so it was. Evalynn Parry is a renowned, highly skilled and wonderfully imaginative director. Her artistic commitment to this project as the dramaturge took it to an even higher level.  Camellia Koo’s set was also impressive – simple and elegant, yet symbolically strong.   Finally, Michelle Ramsay’s lighting design was perfectly moody, adding yet another dimension to the many layers of the production.   Everyone involved in the genesis of this bold new show deserved the standing ovation the house gave.  This is the first time Buddies and Bad Times’ Artistic Director Brendan Healy has not directed the company’s season opener.  I’m sure he agrees, Obaarima is certainly worthy of that honour.   It was simply one of the most profound and magical one-person shows I’ve seen.

Obaarima runs until October 7th. Don’t miss it.


Read Tawiah’s interview in Now: