Sojourners & Her Portmanteau
by Mfoniso Udofia directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Produced at New York Theatre Workshop, New York, NY
April 21 to June 11, 2017
About the Premiere Production:
Synopsis: In a two-part theatrical event, NYTW Usual Suspect Ed Sylvanus Iskandar brings to life the singularly poetic world of playwright and NYTW Usual Suspect Mfoniso Udofia’s Sojourners and Her Portmanteau. Performed in repertory, these two chapters of Udofia's sweeping, nine-part saga, The Ufot Cycle, chronicle the triumphs and losses of the tenacious matriarch of a Nigerian family. In Sojourners, a young, pregnant Abasiama struggles with the responsibilities of her arranged marriage as her husband becomes seduced by 1970s American culture. Intent on finishing her university studies so that she can return to Nigeria, Abasiama weighs her dreams and obligations as she attempts to move forward. Decades later, the full impact of her decision erupts when Abasiama’s family is reunited in Her Portmanteau. As Nigerian traditions clash with the realities of American life, Abasiama and her daughters must confront complex familial legacies that span time, geography, language and culture. Presented in two parts, this heartrending pairing probes into the ties that bind mothers and daughters and how we define home. Sojourners and Her Portmanteau are produced in association with The Playwrights Realm who premiered Sojourners last winter in a limited engagement world premiere production.
Artistic Statement: Mfoniso has been a member of our artistic community for several years, and possesses a talent that we are eager to nurture. In February 2016, we invited her to do a reading of her latest work, Her Portmanteau, the fourth chapter in The Ufot Cycle. In the very same week, our Artistic staff saw a production of the initial work in the series, Sojourners, at The Playwrights Realm. Seeing those plays together was a revelatory experience. Our staff was immediately struck by Mfoniso’s incredible skill for drawing intensely intimate portraits with empathy and sympathy, while not shying away from the complexities of global issues like immigration and gender roles. She is clearly influenced by iconic playwrights like Eugene O’Neill and August Wilson, who use the family as a way to tell sweeping stories that embrace the ways that the past influences the future. Like her theatrical ancestors, Mfoniso is telling a distinctly American story—the story of outsiders trying to find their way in a new place, pulled by the promise of a different life, while still feeling obligated to those left behind. At the same time, her work reflects a distinctly modern immigrant experience, where hopping a flight back “home” and the distant connections created by social media complicate ties to the homeland. New York Theatre Workshop decided the best way to introduce our audience to Mfoniso’s incredible and ambitious project was to produce Sojourners and Her Portmanteau in rotating repertory, in our 2016/17 season.
Grant Statement: The 2016 Edgerton Foundation New Play Award grant will allow the artists involved with Her Portmanteau a much needed additional week of rehearsal, leading up to its world premiere in April. Throughout this week, Mfoniso and Ed will work closely with the three actresses cast in the roles to explore the family dynamics embedded within the piece, grounding them in reality and strengthening the intimate universe of the play.
Set Designer: Jason Sherwood
Lighting Designer: Ji-Youn Chang
Costume Designer: Loren Shaw
Sound Designer: Jeremy S. Bloom