runboyrun & In Old Age
Time Out says
Theater review by Diane Snyder
Ghosts from the past invade the lives of Disciple and Abasiama Ufot in Mfoniso Udofia’s ruminative runboyrun and In Old Age, the latest installments of her ambitious nine-part play cycle about multiple generations of a Nigerian-American family. Both plays dive deeply into the internal torments of their characters, whose painful journeys toward redemption are compelling if sometimes ponderous.
In runboyrun, directed by Loretta Greco and set in 2012, community-college professor Disciple (Chiké Johnson) is haunted by a devastating loss he endured in 1968, before he fled a war-torn Nigeria. That history comes to life on stage in the forms of his younger self (Karl Green), his sister (Adrianna Mitchell), his brother (Adesola Osakalumi) and his mother (Zenzi Williams). When Disciple opens up about the past to his wife, Abasiama (Patrice Johnson Chevannes)—who is ready to divorce him—he finally releases his pent-up guilt.
Abasiama has all but given up on life in In Old Age, which takes place after Disciple’s death. She’s cantankerous to the core when a handyman (Ron Canada) hired by her children shows up to redo the wood floors. Director Awoye Timpo brings out the humor in Abasiama’s initial resistance to change, which evolves into a realization that she can be reborn if she can escape the hold her late husband has on her (as represented by a persistent pounding sound from the basement).
The two plays are paired in a three-hour-plus production at New York Theatre Workshop, which presented Udofia’s Sojourners and My Portmanteau in 2017; although there are logistical benefits to presenting both pieces at once, staging them separately might have given their themes and stories more room to breathe. But Chevannes, Johnson and Canada bring robust soulfulness to their roles, and as their characters exorcise their demons, Udofia’s plays emerge as hearty reminders of the strength of human spirits.
New York Theatre Workshop (Off Broadway). By Mfoniso Udofia. Directed by Loretta Greco and Awoye Timpo. With ensemble cast. Running time: 3hrs 15mins. One intermission.