Surrounded by All the Things That Love Me

runboyrun and In Old Age are parts three and five, respectively, of Mfoniso Udofia’s nine-part play cycle about a single Nigerian-American family. In both works, the same house serves as the stage for an intergenerational haunting by ghosts of the Nigerian Civil War. runboyrun finds Abasiama Ufot (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) in her mid-fifties, ready to leave her husband, Disciple (Chiké Johnson), who is descending into madness while attempting to purge their house of spirits. When In Old Age reintroduces us Abasiama, she is “old” and a “shell,” cocooned in a pile of blankets. A steady diet of gospel television is interrupted by the almost indefatigably cheery Azell Abernathy (Ron Canada), a handyman sent by her children to make wood-related repairs to the now-deteriorating home.

I suspect the asynchronous chronology is deliberate: for any victim of trauma, linearity is a fiction, and thus the jump from mid-fifties to old age is fitting. Furthermore, Chevannes is superb at both points in her character’s life—her thin frame has astounding physical versatility, and it is a genuine thrill to watch the same actor inhabit such different bodies. Canada, too, is a sheer delight, a welcome and genial foil to Abasiama scowling inscrutability.

Still, at three hours fifteen minutes, this pair is quite the marathon. Like the fat novels (or the modern television programs) that Udofia’s epic so resembles, these parts may be better experienced serialized. All at once, it’s a bit of a slog.

runboyrun and In Old Age ran through October 13th at New York Theatre Workshop.  79 E. 4th Street  New York, NY.  3 hours 15 minutes.  One intermission.

Aaron Botwick

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