Osia, written by Jijo Quayson and playing as part of the 2016 SummerWorks Festival, was intense, disturbing, and riveting. At times I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. The play requires you to sit with your discomfort. Osia tells the story of a struggling Ghanaian family that loses its way, badly. Osia is a sweet, fresh-faced little girl, who in the face of her family’s despair, suffers something inexcusable. The role is played by an adult, because it would be totally inappropriate for a child to undertake this role.
The play tackles incest and child abuse, at the intersection of poverty and colonization. A cast of five opens with an African folk song. The tune is joyful, but the body language, and tone of the performers clearly communicates that the situation is not. Throughout the play, scenes are interspersed with African song. The effect was beautiful and heartbreaking.
Mama, single-mother to Osia , is struggling to provide for her daughter, and forced to make some desperate choices. She longs to be taken away to America by her brother Chalé as promised. When Chalé returns to Ghana, it slowly becomes clear that he is not the man his sister believes he is.
Nicole Nwokolo’s performance as wide-eyed, energetic Osia was so consummate that I completely forgot that she is not a child. Osia loves to tell stories, and her delivery reminded me powerfully of how my young son tells a story when he’s excited. Paul Ohonsi’s performance as the evil uncle Chalé crept inside the gut like a cancer that you could not wait to rip out. The role is revulsion personified, and I sincerely hope that Ohonsi does not use a method acting approach.
In many ways, Chemika Bennet-Heath as Mama has the most complex role in this piece. As a mother, I was deeply appalled by the ending, I gasped audibly in the theatre. Mama’s choice at the end was incomprehensible. I have never had my sympathy for a principal character evaporate so completely in the final moments of a piece. I walked away despising a character I really related to during the entire play.
Osia is a profound work that will stay with you for a while. The play is important, and I am glad I saw it. I am also glad that my other festival tickets are for lighter fare.
Osia plays at Factory Theatre Mainspace (125 Bathurst Street)
- Wednesday, August 10, 6:15 – 7:15 PM
- Thursday, August 11, 10:30 – 11:30 PM
- Saturday, August 13, 1:00 – 2:00 PM
- Sunday, August 14, 10:15 – 11:15 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Youth Series tickets are $10, Live Art Series ticket prices vary. Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, by phone at 416-320-5779 and in person at the SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St). Open August 2-14 from 10am-7pm. Cash and credit accepted.
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.