In Old Age, by Mfoniso Udofia, directed by Victor Malana Maog
Left: Steven Anthony Jones as Azell; right, Nancy Moricette as Abasiama
She just wants to get on with her dying-lying there on her ratty couch as gospel songs emanate from a huge old 1960s television set facing her. Abasiama is so small and frail you can’t tell if there’s a person under all those blankets and quilts. Upstage, mullioned windows frame spindly bare trees against a sky whose colors change from pale orange to soft yellow. (Lighting design by York Kennedy; Scenic design by Andrew Boyce.) But her plans are thwarted by this hulking guy, a stranger from the south, banging on her door. He’s there, he says, to replace her rotting floor and basically do anything to keep her house from falling down around her. This intruder, Azell, explains that he’s been paid in advance by her adult children and proves it by pulling out a crumpled receipt from his jeans pocket. As Loretta Greco, Artistic Director of the Magic, wrote in her notes: This stranger “is a catalyst for surprising self-examination and a treacherous, seemingly impossible path towards transformation and forgiveness.” One could not ask for a more perfect cast than Nancy Moricette as Abasiama and Steven Anthony Jones (22 year ACT teacher, actor and director) as Azell. In discussing the preliminaries, Abasiama appears to space out, cocking her head as though listening to something else besides Azell’s sonorous voice. And indeed she is. Her house speaks to her in thumps, whines and creaks as though it resents having another man there after her husband had died decades ago (Sara Huddleston is credited for Sound Design). And Abasiama seems to forget Azell’s name even when he’s told her countless times. Once an agreement is reached, Azell is adamant about his time while she doesn’t seem to get it. They lock horns over this, and moving furniture, and other matters.
Playwright Udofia is following in the footsteps-in a way-of August Wilson by writing a series of interconnected plays. Where Wilson wrote plays mostly set in Pittsburg representing the decades from 1900 with “Gem of the Ocean” to 2005’s “Radio Golf” set in 1990, premiering at Yale Rep in 2005 (He died between the the premiere and the Broadway opening at the Cort Theatre in 2007.) Udofia’s plays focus on the Ufot family cycle. She ties her Nigerian heritage to a family tree in America in a nine- play cycle. Six of them have been written, with three commissioned. The Magic looks to the future in supporting its new playwrights. With “In Old Age,” Magic has collaborated with ACT (where Mfonsi received her MFA) with two of her Ufot family cycle plays: “Her Portmaneau” and “In Old Age,” the latter being the fifth in the cycle.
Award-winning Director Victor Malana Maog in his Magic directorial debut does a masterful job with this play. Every move, pause, action is merited from Abasiama’s awakening as Azell bangs on her door to their working in concert when moving furniture. He is unafraid to have his characters vacate the stage for a moment or two in between actions, often a no-no for inexperienced directors afraid to take chances. However, the house’s ongoing groans and thumps are ever present until Abasiama uproots her nemesis and hauls it away on her back like some monstrous skeletal growth.
Maog also directed ACT’s “Her Portmanteau”. One more word about Andrew Boyce’s scenic design. The changes come about slowly as Azell replaces the floor with planks of beautiful red ceder. You feel that the play will not end until the floor is finished. In the blackout before the final scene, one witnesses the stage crew, in a startling move, reveal a beautiful shiny red cedar floor. All is bright and new.
The play satisfies on many levels and one comes away content with the outcome when two disparate souls come together with support, understanding, and tenderness.
“In Old Age” is at the Magic Theatre, Bldg. D. 3rd floor through April 21st. Thursdays, April 11 -Sat, April 13, 8PM; Sunday, April 14 @ 2:30PM; Tues April 16, 7PM; Wed. April 17 through Sat. April 20 8PM; Sunday, April 21, 2:30 PM.
Go to: www.magictheatre.org for tickets and more information.