Tawiah M`Carthey. Photo Barb Gray.
Questions of identity have become one of the focal points of recent theatre in Canada. In Ottawa we have seen performances in French by Mani Soleymanlou whose recent plays “Un”, “Deux” et “Trois” have focussed on his Persian identity as a construction produced by the interiorization of the gaze of Quebecers who saw him as the Middle eastern immigrant he never knew he was, given the fact his family was Iranian and he arrived here when he was very young. Other more recent immigrants such as Wajdi Mouawad, have used theatre to reflect on their immigrant condition and their sense of identity within their new Canadian/Quebec surroundings. Recently in Ottawa, we have seen other such performances by artists asking similar questions through performance.
Tawiah M’Carthy’s theatre seems to have a slightly different focus: the monologue is essentially about coming to terms with the artist’s sexuality, and has very little to do with his status as an immigrant. He has studied theatre here (is currently a member of the NAC English theatre ensemble) and this production, Obaaberima , created and performed by the artist, opened the Buddies in Bad Times theatre season In 2013- 14. In fact the difficulties he experienced in his home country, Ghana, as he tells us in his narrative, marginalized him even more than he was ever marginalized in Canada where Gay theatre is a given in Montreal and Toronto. Just look at the work by Michel Tremblay, Michel Marc Bouchard, Thompson Highway, Waawaaté Fobister and many of the most established theatre artists in the country. Thus, this play takes on a twist that is familiar to Canadian theatre going audiences. How then is this play of particular interest to audiences here?
The narrative begins as Tawiah is preparing to leave prison and that moment symbolizes his official “outing” as a gay man. He returns to the past to tell us how he lived his life and the many experiences he had with various people in his village who helped him shift his perception and live his life through the “other” sex, performing facets of the other sexual identity by showing him it was not necessarily an unnatural thing.
During his life he hesitated and remained confused about his sexual identity because of social pressure. Thus he takes on various stances showing how being gay means many types of corporel performances, so that the complexity of his choices is revealed by the way he relates and even tries to mask these different bodies that he assumes as an actor.
Nevertheless, the narrative is not the most interesting aspect of this show. Tawaiah is a perfectly acceptable story-teller but he excels as a choreographer. His corporel memory brings to the stage individuals who define themselves by the way they dance, they walk, they move about, by their facial expressions, the sound of their voices. Through the performing body, the actor elicits a stage energy that is exceptional, and certainly much more powerful than anything he says. Given the importance of the percussions and other instruments, the musician, who is placed above the set, should be right on stage at the same level as the actor. We should actually watch the profound dialogue taking place between the musician and dancer/actor that is absolutely necessary in this case. Maybe it is not too late to change that stage structure for the rest of the run.
Obaaberima continues until March 14, in the Studio of the National Arts Centre.
written and performed by Tawiah M’Carthy
Directed by Evalyn Parry
Music performed and composed by Kobèna Aquaa-Harrison
Set and costume designer Camellia Koo
Lighting designer Michelle Ramsay