In this issue of CS Grid, Topdog/Underdog Dramaturge Jordan Laffrenier touches on the relationship between brothers Booth and Lincoln and how their stories echo the realities of many. Jordan also offers insight on acclaimed playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and what she has said about plays’ ability to rewrite history while navigating between theatre and real life.
We're thrilled to finally unveil the world premiere of Maanomaa, My Brother this month in co-production with Blue Bird Theatre Collective. Maanomaa is a heartwarming story about friendships, adventure and truth-seeking.
In this edition of CS Grid, we're delighted to interview Tawiah M'Carthy and Brad Cook, the co-creators and performers of Maanomaa, about childhood friends Kwame and Will who reunite in Ghana for the funeral of a loved one after the events that separated them 25 years earlier.
We learn about the making of this play, how the characters grow from children to men and the touching story of aspiration, healing, and imagination.
What is Maanomaa, My Brother about?
Tawiah M'Carthy: For me, it's a story about two young boys, close friends, closest brothers, who got separated by an incident when they were young and reconnect 25 years later, working towards finding a path to move forward and mend the relationship they had as young boys. For me, it's also a story about healing, hope, and moving forward.
Brad Cook: It’s also about true brotherhood that can bend, but it won't break. Or at least, we're seeing if that's the case with these two men as they come back to deal with the things they had faced in the past. It’s also about the stories that were told. I think the stories that hold us back, but also the stories that helped propel us forward.
Can you describe your characters?
TM: Kwame, the character I play, is a patient man. Kwame is an intellect. Kwame is an introvert. Kwame is healing. He's a man who's also in the process of healing as he learns about the truth that separated him from his childhood friend, Will.
BC: Will, the character I play, is an adventurous and curious boy. We meet him as he arrives back in Ghana for the funeral of a loved one as an adult. He was born in Ghana and forced to leave when he was a young boy, separating him from Ghana, his home and splitting apart the brotherhood that he shared with Kwame.
We always start from the body. We both hold the philosophy that the movement of the body actually holds more story than the text can contain. – Tawiah M'Carthy
Can you talk about the storytelling approach for Maanomaa?
TM: I think Maanomaa is an intercultural story. We've combined the storytelling methodology of two cultures: Ghana and Canada, which are two places where I've lived. For me, it employs imagination and movement. For this project, the work we've made ensures the text within the piece itself and the movements within the piece itself are of equal weight. So, making room for the audience to join in the journey by expanding the imagination and what we see on stage.
There is great intimacy between men, between boys. It's complicated to think about sharing who you are with somebody else without questioning the walls society puts up in terms of how men relate. – Brad Cook
How does this brotherhood evolve between the two main characters in their transition from boyhood to manhood?
TM: In the show, the brotherhood we witness between Kwame and Will, especially when we meet them as young boys, is one of purity. It's one of innocence. It's one of trust. It's one not filtered by the eyes of adults or jaded by the experience of others. It's just two young boys seeing each other and finding a bond.
The conversation we've been having around this bond of brotherhood between these two characters is destiny. It's rare. It's one of those things that happens once in a lifetime. I would even say Will and Kwame are soulmates regarding their friendship and brotherhood. They were meant to be in each other's lives. When they meet as adults, because they've spent so much time apart, that relationship does not come so easily to them because they lived and became men away from each other. So, part of this play is witnessing the work and the effort both characters put into rediscovering their friendship since they had as kids.
You know when you see your friend after a long period, and you pick up where you left off? It's that unspoken knowledge of each other.– Brad Cook
BC: For them in their relationship, it's a shared experience. It's the things they go through—the good things, the adventures, the challenges, and some of the more difficult things they must deal with. And really, it's an unspoken thing. You know when you see your friend after a long period, and you pick up where you left off? It's that unspoken knowledge of each other.
They spent the best portion of their childhood together, probably inseparable. Their adventures running around, getting into mischief. And it's unfortunate, this tragic accident that happened separates the two of them. And now, as grown men, they must see how they can come back together, how they can move forward, if they can move forward. And that's the hardest part. So, they're on the journey to figure out if that brotherhood still exists.
So, part of this play is witnessing the work and the effort both characters put into rediscovering their friendship since they had as kids. – Tawiah M'Carthy
How did Maanomaa first get started?
BC: Originally titled Blue Bird, Maanomaa began mainly through conversations that Tawiah and I were having in 2013 when we were actors at the time in incremental chunks. We would have these conversations about what we wanted to do with the work, what we wanted to create, and what we wanted to have with the work we were making. We got into a space, and the way that we create work is first on stage. So, we'll get up and improvise and then we'll take that and transpose that onto the paper.
Our conversations as co-creators evolved over ten years ago, but at the heart of the play around brotherhood, moving forward, and hope for the future has been the one thing that's stayed consistent throughout.
TM: Yes, so right now, we're in the process of finishing the play. It's exciting knowing that this is the final phase of the work. We took a break for quite a few years between 2013 to 2016. It's a collective creation; like most collective creations, it needs time to breathe. So, we've come back to the script in 2020 and have been working on the new draft since. During the break, Brad and I matured in our own practices and learned new skills. When we returned to the work again, we're asking ourselves questions, we're refining the movement, language and vocabulary within the piece.
It is imaginative; it asks the audience to sit forward and bring themselves into the piece, to use their imagination. And it's a whole lot of fun. We travel time and space. We have moments in the present, we have moments in the past. We have a mythical aspect of the show. – Brad Cook
What do you hope audiences will take away from this performance?
TM: I'll answer this question in two folds. My hope is that in witnessing the story between Will and Kwame and the work they do to rediscover what the future holds for them—as brothers as friends—we are also inspired by the hope they hold on to. We are inspired by what the future or the potential of what our possible future could look like.
Secondly, my hope is that audiences are introduced to a new form of theatre, witnessing myself as a performer and Brad putting the show on stage. I think part of what we're working actively to create is to create an experience for the audience that come in and to share with them something that is new. They leave impacted, that they leave having been inspired of what theatre can be—in imagination and all other aspirations that theatre can be more."
BC: I hope that the audiences enjoy the whole theatrical aspect of it. Not only the stories and the things that we're exploring, what it means to be a man growing up, brotherhood, but the way that we decide to tell the story. It is imaginative; it asks the audience to sit forward and bring themselves into the piece, to use their imagination. And it's a whole lot of fun. We travel time and space. We have moments in the present, we have moments in the past. We have a mythical aspect of the show. Myth and storytelling are a big part of these boys’ lives, and that's another big part of the theatrical language that we're using.
BC: Maanomaa, My Brother explores the pains and hurts that we hold on from past generations and how together we try and move forward, how we can meet each other in those challenging, difficult things that we go through, and how we can move forward past those things. It's about hope. It's about being there for each other. It's about supporting each other through difficult times. And it's about having fun.
Tickets are now on sale to Maanomaa, My Brother, on stage April 11-30, 2023.