BWW Review: IN OLD AGE at Magic Theatre
In Old Age
Written by Mfoniso Udofia
Directed by Victor Malana Maog
First generation Nigerian-America playwright Mfoniso Udofia explores the exercising of demons and redemption in the fifth play in her Ufot family cycle, a two-hander world premiere directed by Victor Malana Maog, who also directed the fourth play, Her Portmanteau at A.C. T. Strand last month.
If you've followed the cycle, you'd have leg up on understanding the background of the Ufot family and specifically the main character here, matriarch Abasiama Ufot. I saw Her Portmanteau and loved the emotional intensity and Udofia's scrutiny of multi-generational and cross-cultural differences. Director Maog pulls gut-wrenching performances from his actors, Steven Anthony Jones as handyman Azell Abernathy and Nancy Moricette as Abasiama, and Andrew Boyce's set design, York Kennedy's lighting and Sara Huddleston's sound design are top notch.
Like Her Portmanteau, In Old Age suffers from very little substance stretched far too thin. The premise is simple - an elderly Southern handyman is hired by Abasiama's children to update her dilapidated family home. The two clash from the git go, from removing and washing his work boots, to the time to complete the project, to his pension for cussing. Azell thinks she's 'mule-stubborn or senile', but there's something much more sinister at play. Seems the house is haunted by a spirit she calls Ebe, a detail which is not clearly explained. Lights blink and there's a banging of walls that infer a heartbeat.
Abasiama constantly asks Azell "what kind of man are you?", a query that Azell cannot answer. Their relationship remains on edge for quite a while but slowly evolves into a kind of friendship. Abasiama has an explosive breakdown and catharsis regarding clearing the house of the spirit and Azell finally confront his issues with past domestic abuse fueled by alcohol.
With over five decades of acting under his belt, Steven Anthony Jones lives and breathes his character - a weary, aged, Southern African American man transplanted from his roots and estranged children. Nancy Moricette's Abasiama is a woman possessed, living on her couch trying not to upset the house. The intrusion of another male presence forces the issue she must face.
Udofia has taken on a huge challenge here with a nine-play cycle (six are written). Embracing her Nigerian heritage with the assimilation into American culture is important content for many immigrant populations. In Old Age adds a level of spiritualism and fantasy, realized though Azell's Christin faith and Abasiama's African folk religion. The fine acting and gorgeous look just couldn't overcome the extensive buildup to the hastily exposed climax.
In Old Age continues through April 21st, 2019 at Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA. Tickets are available at www.magictheatre.org or by calling (415) 441-8822.
Photos by Jennifer Reiley