So much of this story is conveyed in body language. It transports us across time, places us in distinct environments, and invites us into the very close friendship between Kwame and Will. Maanomaa, My Brother, presented by Blue Bird Theatre Collective and Canadian Stage, examines their bond as they grow up in, leave and eventually return to Ghana.
Created by Tawiah M’Carthy and Brad Cook with Anne-Marie Donovan, the hour-long performance contains multitudes, feels somehow both intimate and vast. M’Carthy (Kwama) and Cook (Will) return to Ghana for the funeral of Kwame’s grandfather—the man who raised him after the death of his father. Their reunion is cordial enough, but we sense tension. Is Will’s enthusiasm a little too intrusive? Why is Kwame holding back? Why won’t he open the letter Will has brought from his father?
Revelations are in store, though we must be taken back to their childhood—and their fathers’ relationship—before the current situation makes sense. Will’s from a white family living in Ghana. He and Kwame meet in school and are drawn towards each other immediately. We see their games, their attempts to catch a blue bird that fascinates them, and classroom pranks where they each try to get the other’s knuckles rapped.
Director Philip Akin and his design team have set up very simple, subtly evocative aesthetics to support M’Carthy and Cook. An elongated, forced perspective wooden platform gives them some levels to play with. It is the juxtaposition between their exuberant bounding and restrained, mannered posture that establishes where they are in life, though they punctuate the transition with a clever tucking in of loose shirts into shorts.
They conjure crowded airports, bustling urban centres, and the stifling, awkward energy in a house that was once warm, but now mostly empty and fraught with unspoken feelings. Particularly impressive is their quick, assured jumps between a variety of secondary characters—bus drivers, bar keeps and the fathers. Cook’s convincing inhabitation of Ghanaian characters, with many exchanges in Twi, is especially note-worthy here as there’s never a trace of artifice or discomfiting mimicry.
So much of Maanomaa, My Brother feels quite whimsical, you don’t realize until the end just how complex, resilient and nuanced their dynamic is. Blurred lines and ambiguous intentions are a part of the human experience, but queer-coding is so often employed as lazy short-hand for intense male intimacy. It is refreshing to see male affection examined without the burden of that presupposed lens.