“Whose Child Am I Anyway?” Explores the Intersection of Racism and Misogyny in Ireland

“But when I want to realize my potential—when a Black man wants to become a playwright—oh my God, this is the exclusive preserve of the white elites.”

Bisi Adigun, Corrib Theatre Bisi Adigun, Corrib Theatre

Nigerian playwright Bisi Adigun, who lived and worked in Ireland from 1996 to 2019, says the country is a welcoming nation for Black playwrights—as long as they don’t want to write plays.

“[Your] lane is to be a victim that needs a helping hand,” Adigun said in an interview with Portland’s Corrib Theatre. “So if I want to be in Ireland and I’m selling newspapers on the streets, that’s fine. People are happy about that. But when I want to realize my potential—when a Black man wants to become a playwright—oh my God, this is the exclusive preserve of the white elites.”

The Black experience in Ireland is a defining theme in Adigun’s play Whose Child Am I Anyway?, which Corrib debuted this month as an audio production. It’s a family saga burdened by cumbersome exposition, but the performances by its actors and Adigun’s attentiveness to intersections of racism and misogyny are too potent to ignore.

Whose Child Am I Anyway? was directed by Bobby Bermea and stars Don Kenneth Mason as Biyi, a Nigerian immigrant living in Dublin with his wife, Cathy (Danielle Weathers). Biyi has master’s degrees in drama and film and television as well as a doctorate in drama studies, but he can’t find a position as a lecturer, so he passes the time by cooking and watching Nollywood films on Netflix.

While the play could have been solely Biyi’s story, a borderline soap-operatic twist transforms it into something stranger. Just before Biyi and Cathy’s daughter, Roisin (Celia Torres), come to visit, Cathy confesses she secretly used the eggs from a surrogate donor to become pregnant with Roisin—a revelation that Biyi confronts with shock and wrath.

The scope of Cathy’s lie is staggering, and her justification of her decision—that she knew Biyi wouldn’t approve—is accurate but flimsy. Yet Adigun shows Cathy compassion by asserting that while the ravages of racism and the stigma surrounding in vitro fertilization are different, they both deserve narrative weight.

When Julie Ann, the egg donor, legally challenges Cathy’s parental authority (she disapproves of Roisin’s decision to go to college in Canada), she essentially declares that her personal desires matter more than the 18 years Cathy has spent raising Roisin. What Biyi can’t comprehend is that he and Cathy are both facing discrimination: He because of the color of his skin and she because of the choices she made regarding her health and her body.

Despite Biyi’s anger, it is impossible to despise him. That is because he is played by Mason, a commanding performer whose achievements include his harrowing and haunting portrayal of a closeted gay preacher at a reading of James Webb’s The Contract at Fertile Ground in 2018.

Mason’s performance in Whose Child Am I Anyway? is a spiritual sequel to his work in that play. In both, he was called on to embody a man being emotionally pulverized by the competing demands of tradition and reality. Mason shoulders that symbolic significance effortlessly, even as he handles intimate details with grace, like the warm way that Biyi greets Roisin (“how is my best girl?”).

Whose Child Am I Anyway? has a lovely scene where Biyi and Roisin joke about people who pester her with questions like, “But where are you really from?” Their conversation is so wise and witty that some audiences may wish the entire play were about their relationship—especially since there are moments when Cathy seems less a character than a mouthpiece to convey a convoluted family history.

The script’s flaws are frustrating, but it is still a compelling chapter in Corrib’s chronicles of contemporary Ireland. Together, Whose Child Am I Anyway? and Corrib’s recent production of Rosaleen McDonagh’s Pretty Proud Boy present a portrait of a nation that pits the marginalized against the marginalized in a cruel contest for prizes that are undefined at best and meaningless at worst.

After Cathy comes clean, Biyi tells her, “It’s your mess.” Yet the point of Whose Child Am I Anyway? and Pretty Proud Boy is that no mess is the exclusive property of one person. That includes the systemic injustices that pollute Biyi and Cathy’s lives, even as they tragically battle each other.

LISTEN: Whose Child Am I Anyway? streams at corribtheatre.org/whose-child-am-i-anyway through July 18. Free to $15.

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