Patrice Johnson Chevannes, Chiké Johnson Photo by Joan Marcus
Mfoniso Udofia’s Ufot Family Cycle continues with runboyrun and In Old Age performed in one night. In runboyrun, we revisit Abasiama (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) and Disciple Ufot (Chiké Johnson). Abasiama now sleeps all day, as she listens to “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”. She buries herself in blankets and clothes, as Disciple is haunted about his childhood in Africa in nightmares that constantly absorb him. He is intrenched in the magic of the old world. Despite being married Disciple lives in the basement, as Abasiama inhabits the couch upstairs. Disciple is a victim of PTSD and he takes his anger on Abasiama. Their children are gone, their home is in a state of disrepair. Disciple has lost his job as a professor of African Studies at a community college. He is a writer who is trying to complete his book on post-colonial Africa, “Remembrance and Forward Growth.” Disciple states Nigeria, has “A history nobody knows”.
The time is January in Worcester Massachusetts and without heat, Abasiama is freezing. This day has repeated itself over and over for over 30 years. As Abasiama tries to break free, Disciple finally communicates. Abasiama like Jesus forgives and offers redemption to Disciple, along with unconditional love.
Directed by Loretta Greco the actors are clear and constant, the show meaningful. There is a lot of exposition, but it is leading up to the next play, which is powerful and heart wrenching.
In Old Age, Abasiama is still under the covers on the couch listening to gospel, but she is even more buried. Disciple is dead, but he haunts her even more so from beyond the grave. A knock on the door brings Abernathy (Ron Canada), a contractor, hired by Abasiama’s daughter to renovate the house. Abasiama has been stifled so long by Disciple, that she can not see that change and a new floor will give her. The ghost from the past is none too happy and starts to haunt Abasiama even more as she is drawn to the newcomer. As Abasiama sheds her mantle of protection, she and Abernathy dance.
The day after the connection, fear sinks back in and Abasiama calls out Abernathy for who he is. She sees into Abernathy’s soul, both the good and the bad. Turns out Disciple took out his PTSD on her with beatings, verbal abuse and had her pay most of their bills. He also took out his rage on their children, whom she protected. As Abasiama stands on the new floor, she gets the strength to throw out Disciples belongings including a plant that has long since died. In the end Abaiama is ready for a new life, full of freedom and ties that have been severed. She has been redeemed as has Abernathy, whom she redeems.
Patrice Johnson Chevannes is a marvel as Abasiama. She allows every nuance of this character to flow freely throughout her body. She allows us to dislike her character, in order to see the truth of what has happened. As Abasiama sheds the layers of self doubt, Ms. Chevannes peels back her emotional skin, layer by layer. It is subtle and painstakingly brilliant. All the actors in this piece bring a realism of depth to their performances.
The set design by Andrew Boyce is simple yet effective and the lighting by Oona Curley is haunting. Kudos to J. Jared Janas for hair, wig and make-up design and Karen Perry for costumes.
The direction by Awoye Timpo, builds the tension and allows us to see a women who has put up with so much due her cultural background and what she grew up with. Abasiama finally comes into her own power and it is a joy to watch.
This is the third and fourth plays, I have seen in the Ufot Family Cycle. Ms. Udofia’s plays are filled with poetry and a cultural knowledge that transcends past, present and future. The night is long, but in the end spiritual satisfying. This is what great theatre is all about.
runboyrun and In Old Age: New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th, until October 13th.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)