Mom wants him to be a pastor, dad wants him to be a lawyer… friends mock him as a girlie boy

Rosie Awori

Obaaberima is hitting Montreal stages for the second time. The story chronicles a young Ghanaian man who is Imprisoned in Canada for committing a violent crime.
On the eve of his release he tells his cellmates how he got there. Although there is great risk in sharing his tale, he must tell it to be truly free. Through storytelling, dance, and live music, Obaaberima gives the account of a young African-Canadian’s journey across continents, genders, races, and sexualities.
The play is written and performed by transfixing actor/author, Tawiah Ben M’Carthy and was the winner of the 2013 Dora Award for Outstanding Production.
M’Carthy is quoted as saying that the show is not literally autobiographical, but calls on elements of his experience. Its central character is Agyeman, a young Ghanaian man who struggles with his parents’ high expectations — his mom wants him to be a pastor, while his dad a lawyer — and with the complexities of his gendered and sexual identity.
The audience meets him on the last night in a Canadian prison dressed in the familiar orange jumpsuit, but there’s something curious about how he wears it. His pants legs are rolled up and one arm out of its sleeve exposing a lot of skin.
Dressed this way, he’s expressing the female side of his identity, who is named Sibongile; she serves as narrator and controls the show’s action. In this guise, M’Carthy’s performance is feminized: he plays the higher areas of his vocal register and moves gracefully and sensuously. Sibongile tells how, growing up in Ghana, Agyeman was mocked for being an “Obaaberima” — a girlie boy; he secretly puts on his mother’s dresses and high heels while publicly trying to walk the walk of compulsory heterosexuality.
M’Cathy was born in Accra, Ghana, and moved to Canada at the age of 14, where he lived in in Merritt, British Columbia and later in Scarborough, Ontario. He studied theatre at York University, writing his first play, The Kente Cloth, and staged it at Toronto’s SummerWorks festival during this time.
Tawiah uses both African and Western theatre traditions, often combining movement, sound and text with theatrical structure, characterization and design. He strives to create works that contribute new narratives to the stage, works that reflect the truths of society as it was, is and could be. His playwright/creator/performer credits include Black Boys, Blue Bird, Obaaberima and The Kente Cloth.
He won two Dora Mavor Moore Award nominations for Obaaberima in 2013, for both Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Performance by a Male in a Principal Role – Play, amid five other nominations for the play. The show won three other Dora Awards, including Outstanding Production of a Play.
He has also acted in other plays, including productions of Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band, Kwame Stephens’ Man 2 Man, Lanford Wilson’s Balm in Gilead, D. D. Kugler and William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth, and in Maxime Desmons’ short film Au plus proche.
He is part of the 2014-15 English Theatre Ensemble at the National Arts Centre, and has also worked with Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre and Obsidian Theatre companies.
Black Theatre Workshop and Espace Libre have combined forces to present Obaaberima. The production, originally commissioned and developed by Buddies in Bad Times Theatre will play in English with French subtitles at Espace Libre, 1945, rue Fullum, Montréal from March 24 to March 28.