Martin Okyere Owusu

OWUSU, Martin (Okyere) (1943-), Ghanaian dramatist. Born in Agona Kwaman, Ghana, the son of a catechist, Martin Owusu received his secondary schooling at Mfantsipim School, Cape Coast, where he was influenced by his teacher Joe de Graft; trained as a teacher at the Presbyterian Training College, Akropong-Akuapem; and completed the diploma in theatre studies at the School of Music and Drama in Legon. He has two postgraduate degrees: an M.Litt. from Bristol (1973) and a Ph.D. from Brandeis (1979), both concerned with the classical influences on West African playwrights. He has held appointments at universities in Ghana and the USA and is a senior lecturer the School of Performing Arts at Legon.


Although he is a significant figure on a national level as an actor, academic, teacher, and director, Owusu's reputation rests on his published stage plays. The first of these were Adventures of Sasa and Esi (1968), playlets based on short stories about children encountering a giant and a witch. The Story Ananse Told (1970), originally prepared for the annual staff production at Mfantsipim, makes use of material from the body of stories known as Anansesem and links Owusu with those, like Efua Sutherland and de Graft, who have contributed to a national theatrical tradition linked with Ananse. From The Sudden Return and Other Plays (1973), which brings together experiments with various kinds of narrative drama, Owusu emerges as a journeyman playwright, adept at dramatizing an Ananse tale (A Bird Called 'Go-back-for-the-answer'), or 'a story we were told when we were young' (Anane), at adapting a foreign model, 'The Pot of Broth' by W. B. Yeats, for example (The Pot of Okro Soup), or at making a play out of a sensational superstition (The Sudden Return). These succeed as fragments rather than as wholes, providing glimpses of Owusu's awareness of what works on the stage but not asking difficult questions or undertaking thoroughgoing investigations. His most important play is a historical drama, The Mightier Sword, also published in The Sudden Return and Other Plays, based on events that occurred during the first Ashanti-Denkyira war. Though more ambitious and providing evidence of a theatrical imagination that can encompass both the comic and the courtly, it too remains superficial. Lapses in diction, looseness in dramatic structure, and a reluctance to come to grips with issues mean that the promise is greater than the achievement. Owusu's plays have been popular with student groups, but as time passes it becomes clear that his major contribution to the Ghanaian theatre is as a director rather than as a playwright. His doctoral dissertation was published as Drama of the Gods: A Study of Seven African Plays (1983).

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