San Francisco Theater Review: HER PORTMANTEAU (A.C.T.’s Strand Theater)

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by Harvey Perr on March 6, 2019

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area


Although it is written with an almost childlike simplicity, Mfoniso Udofia’s Her Portmanteau tells a wrenching tale of the profound effect that separation creates when a woman who has left her family behind in Nigeria to start a new family in America has to face again her daughter, who has now come to live with her since the daughter’s father — her mother’s first husband — has died, and who, in coming to her mother, has left her own child behind.

Coming at this moment in time, when we have had the experience of seeing children torn apart from their parents at border detention centers and placed in cages, the play has a power beyond even its own intentions. Part of a nine play cycle about the Ufot family, A.C.T.’s production at the Strand makes one eager to see the entire cycle.

When Iniabasi (Eunice Woods) arrives, she is ill-prepared for a New York winter in her flimsy clothes and the little red suitcase, her portmanteau, which contains a surprising amount of metaphysical baggage. She expects her mother, Abasiama (Kimberly Scott), whose house in Massachusetts she has been expecting to live in, to meet her at the airport, but she is met instead by her half-sister, Adiaha (Aneisa Hicks), the child of the man Abasiama has created a new family and a new life with.

Adiaha has started a new life of her own, and it is to her apartment that they go — Iniabasi glowering with disappointment and contempt and Adiaha open but confused. Abasiama finally shows up and the three, mothers and daughters, begin a dance of family dynamics that quietly builds to a crescendo of emotion, and, without giving away how it gets there, has a shattering and desperately unnerving impact.

All three actors, under the sensitive direction of Victor Malana Maog, are superb, but it is Ms. Scott, who, though sometimes difficult to understand, makes the mother’s feelings so real that words are almost unnecessary. A good amount of the language is spoken in a Nigerian dialect which gives to the play a musicality and an authenticity that is, in its own way, both disarming and telling. One wants to know more about the Ufots.

photos by Kevin Berne

Her Portmanteau
American Conservatory Theater
A.C.T.’s Strand Theater, 1127 Market St.
Tues-Sat at 7:30; Wed, Sat & Sun at 2
ends on March 31, 2019
for tickets, call 415.749.2228 or visit A.C.T.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Josie Kamin March 23, 2019 at 11:33 pm

We saw the play this afternoon, and while it was very emotional, it was not only that we did not know what they were saying while talking in their Nigerian language but it was very difficult to hear and understand what they were saying in English. It would have been helpful if the program had some information about the play to read so that it would be more understandable. A little background would have been helpful for the enjoyment of the play. The acting was excellent; but, with that said, difficult to understand. I felt that the last 20 minutes was torture to have to sit and not be able to leave due to the seating arrangements and not wishing to disturb the other attendants of the play.


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