The actor saunters onto the stage. His eyes bulge, then dart from side to side, exploring a dark corner as if for a hidden enemy. Then, he smiles. Suddenly, he grimaces; then his lips curl as if in disgust, or contempt.
His audience is on tenterhooks, clearly unsure of what’s going to happen next.
Mpho Osei Tutu is a man of many faces, a man of many personalities. He has to be. In his latest show, Convincing Carlos, he alone plays 12 different characters and uses many different accents to portray them credibly.
“In a way, my transient life so far has prepared me for this because I’ve had the good fortune to live in many different places and to experience many different cultures and people,” Tutu explained.
The actor and writer, the winner of many awards, was born in Paris, France, to a father from Ghana and a mother from Lesotho. Tutu’s lived in both of these countries, as well as Togo and South Africa.
“I consider all of these places to be home for me, although these days I spend more time in Johannesburg because it’s such an important hub of Africa’s TV, film and theater sectors,” he said.
Tutu described Convincing Carlos as a “tragi-comedic reflection” on “one of the craziest times” in Africa’s sporting and cultural history – the build-up to the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa.
His show is grounded in real life events surrounding the South African Football Association’s (SAFA’s) desperate, and ultimately successful, bid to reemploy one of the world’s leading soccer coaches to train South Africa’s team in the World Cup finals.
Brazil’s Carlos Alberto Parreira had quit managing the team, known as Bafana Bafana, in 2008, but SAFA lured him back to South Africa before the finals with promises of massive cash payments.
Tutu said Convincing Carlos is his attempt to explore South Africa’s “infatuation” with Parreira, even though he had only delivered a few good results for Bafana Bafana and had abandoned the team when it needed him most.
Parreira had won the 1994 World Cup coaching Brazil, but his 2010 tenure with Bafana Bafana failed, with South Africa becoming the first host nation in the tournament’s history to be knocked out of the tournament in the first round.
“The absurdity of the whole situation for me felt like a great premise for a comedy,” Tutu said. “Of course, what we got was more than a comedy – it was a real human story about a character and quite tragic in many senses.”
‘Omens’ lead to tragedy
Tutu’s referring to his show’s main character, a South African football fan called Sechaba Mofokeng. Through his words and actions, Tutu satirizes not only Africa’s but also the globe’s obsession with the sport and the lengths that some people are willing to go in order to “win at all costs” in soccer.
In the play, Mofokeng receives several “omens” in nightmares telling him to travel to Brazil to convince Parreira to return to South Africa to coach Bafana Bafana in the 2010 finals. A deranged Mofokeng eventually ends up breaking into the coach’s home in Rio de Janeiro and is deported back to his homeland.
Another of the main characters in Convincing Carlos is Khalo, a struggling writer who tracks Mofokeng down for a book he’s penning about “football fanaticism.” It emerges that the fan’s passion for soccer has cost him his family, friends, job and self-respect.
“That’s the tragedy of this story – that the main character…just completely loses track of all of that stuff that is important in his life, because of his obsession with football,” Tutu told VOA.
‘Ginormous’ football fan
His work is largely fictional, but the actor insisted that the world is filled with millions of people who are “carbon copies” of Sechaba Mofokeng. “There are stories of African football fans, like number one fans of clubs, that have lost their families because of their mad love for football, and these all fed into the Sechaba character.”
“For me that was the tragedy of it,” Tutu continued,” that something as beautiful as the “beautiful game” (as it’s called around the world) can have such tragic things connected to it. What you would think is a game to one person is like life and death to another.”
Tutu maintained that he understands people’s sometimes “over the top” love of football as he, too, is a “ginormous” soccer supporter. “I support France, I support Ghana, I support Lesotho, and when I’m in South Africa I support (Soweto club) Kaizer Chiefs,” he said. “I hardly ever miss games in which these teams are involved.”
Singing show tunes
Critics have praised Tutu for his use of multiple accents and facial expressions in Convincing Carlos. At one point in the show he plays a South African colored, or mixed race, drug courier. The colored dialect is notoriously difficult to imitate, but Tutu managed it with aplomb.
He ascribed his skill at speaking in different accents to his diverse upbringing and the fact that he travels a lot throughout the world. “So I get to hear a lot of different people speaking their languages, and I seem to pick up on the ways in which they speak very quickly.”
Tutu added, “Vocally, as a child, I would always sing show tunes. I would always try and play around with accents. Even then, they seemed to come easily to me.”
But he described doing a one-man show as the hardest thing he’s ever done. “One man on stage…is quite nerve-wracking.”
But, inspired by South African actors and directors Craig Morris and Matthew Ribnick, whom Tutu calls masters of one-man theater, he decided to challenge himself. “A piece of me just wanted to see if I could do it, you know,” he commented. “And then I finally decided on the one-man format because there’s a piece of me in each one of the different characters.”
Tutu said Convincing Carlos works as a one-man show “as it’s ultimately about the journey of one man,” Sechaba Mofokeng.
Tutu acknowledged that his latest work also represented his biggest step so far on his personal journey to fulfill himself as an actor and writer.
By Darren Taylor
Source: VOA News