Review: Obaaberima (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre)

Tawiah M'carthy and Kobena Aquaa-Harrison in Obaaberima

Powerful, important confession launches Buddies’ 34th theater season in Toronto.

Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, a real-life oasis in Toronto, has been turned into a prison for the play Obaaberima. Sometimes being in jail is a good thing.

Obaaberima was created and performed by Tawiah M’carthy. The one-man play saw its genesis more than three years ago. Working with director/dramaturge Evalyn Parry, this labour of love is now paying huge dividends.

The story of Obaaberima is of a confused young man, Agyeman (M’carthy). It is told to fellow inmates (the audience) on the day before his release from prison. Agyeman tells us his life story through a mix of storytelling, dance and live music.

Agyeman grew up in Western Africa, specifically Ghana. His father sees one role for his son. His mother sees another.

Agyeman has a strong female side in him, almost another self. He begins one of his journeys by literally stepping into his mother’s shoes.

He soon steps into dresses at a seamstress’s back room. They fall in love. Shortly after that, Agyeman also begins dating a schoolmate. He is torn between the two lovers, between maturity and youth. He is also torn between the medical profession versus the legal one and moving abroad versus staying at home. Agyeman really is “pulled in every direction”.

After moving to Canada, Agyeman adds another layer to his complexity, to his dilemma. He works as a lawyer during the week, but parties in dance clubs on weekends. He dates a woman and a man at the same time.

M’carthy is incredibly charismatic. His physicality and movements are striking. He moves from one character to another seamlessly. He turns the prison into too many places to list. I wanted to shake his hand afterwards. He felt like an old friend.

One man band Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison is M’carthy’s partner in crime, his “silent partner”. Throughout Obaaberima, Aquaa-Harrison plays along, using traditional African instruments and guitars. The music is so good that I could spend an evening watching and listening to it in a simple jazz club. The two men together reminded me of some of Michael Franti’s early work. They work as one single and powerful voice.

Other accomplices guilty of turning the Buddies mainstage into a prison are the award-winning artists Camellia Koo (set and costume design) and Michelle Ramsay (lighting). The stage is tactile and inviting. It is obvious that a lot of love when into the mounting of Obaaberima on every level.

The lights are magical. I found the shadows created by them to be especially fascinating. They are creative and symbolic. At times the shadows make it seem like there is more than one performer onstage. At other times they help transport us back in time to Ghana.

Before seeing Obaaberima, I had fears that it might be preachy and talk down to its audience. On the contrary, the play lifts our spirits. It opens windows, letting fresh air and life flow in.

When the play ended, there was a unanimous and passionate standing ovation. The cast and crew of Obaaberima had better get used to that sort of exchange. It’s going to happen after every performance.

I strongly recommend heading over to Buddies and breathing this play in deeply!

Details:

  • Obaaberima is playing at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre (12 Alexander Street) until October 7, 2012
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm, with additonal matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm
  • Ticket prices range from $20 – $37 with rush tickets and PWYC available for select performances
  • Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-975-8555

-Photo of Tawiah M’carthy and Kobena Aquaa-Harrison by Jeremy Mimnagh