This is one party you are not going to want to miss. HERE Resident Artists Donovan & Calderón invite audiences to a rather surreal gathering in the exhilaratingly funny and utterly bizarre dance-theater piece The Reception, continuing at HERE through June 24. Actor, dancer, and writer Sean Donovan and actor, director, and scholar Sebastián Calderón Bentin have been collaborating since 2003 on such cutting-edge works as Not Unclear, The Climate Chronicles, and 18½ Minutes. For The Reception, they have put together quite a guest list: master choreographers Jane Comfort and Ishmael Houston-Jones, performer and choreographer Leslie Cuyjet, actress Hannah Heller, and the well-mustachioed Donovan himself, an extremely talented comic actor who was a standout in such recent productions as the Builders Association’s Elements of Oz and the first two parts of Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming trilogy. The five fabulously dressed partygoers — the costumes are by Felix Ciprián, with Heller’s sparkling gown a particular stunner — drink, dance, nosh, and schmooze on Neal Wilkinson’s circular wooden stage, cluttered with a couch, a few chairs, a table of snacks and bottles of alcohol, and a light-up globe. Snippets of dialogue come front and center and then disappear into the background, ranging from silly jokes to more serious tales of sexism, misogyny, and ageism, as Houston-Jones tries to score with every other character in hysterical ways. Words and actions repeat, high-heeled shoes come off and are put back on, and Donovan grows ever-more desirous of the “tarty things,” all set to Stevie Wonder’s infectious “Another Star” from his groundbreaking 1976 double album, Songs in the Key of Life. Tension and anxiety wax and wane, stimulated by a sly little take on a fundamental horror movie trope. The fun sound design is by Brandon Wolcott and Tyler Kieffer, which is complemented by Amanda K. Ringger’s inventive lighting, especially when the story takes a creepy turn. And the ending is splendidly mad.
Codirected by Calderón and Donovan, The Reception was inspired by such classic European cinema as Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad, Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel, Jacques Tati’s Playtime, and Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. It was originally titled “Abbadon,” which in Hebrew means “place of destruction” and in Revelation refers to a king who was the “angel of the Abyss,” a hellish place of confinement. The five characters are trapped in their own private sphere, alternating between being deliriously happy, then nervous and worried, concerned for their immediate future. The social-gathering aspects of the show are beautifully precise even with improvisation, expertly detailing the interaction among the bash attendees, from movement to language to facial gesture, especially since all of the performers have collaborated previously on multiple projects: Cuyjet has danced with Jane Comfort and Company since 2005, Donovan and Heller both portrayed Dorothy Gale (and other roles) in Elements of Oz, and Houston-Jones and Comfort teamed up for The Studies Project, among other collaborations, making the proceedings that much more believable no matter how strange it gets. But underneath it all, literally and figuratively, lies the unknown, a dark side from which there might be no escape. In which case, the only thing to do is to keep on partying.
The best free multidisciplinary arts festival of the summer, River to River packs a whole lot into a narrow amount of time. Sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, this year’s activities, which, as always, focus on more experimental presentations, take place June 14-25 at such locations as Governors Island, Federal Hall, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Fulton Center, City Hall Park, and other downtown areas. While everything is free, some performances require advance registration because of space considerations. In addition to the below events, Katja Novitskova’s “EARTH POTENTIAL” Public Art Fund exhibition opens June 22 in City Hall Park, photographer Kamau Ware’s “Black Gotham Experience” interactive storytelling project will pop up at various places throughout the fest, LMCC’s Open Studios allows visitors the chance to meet with dozens of artists, and Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s “A Supple Perimeter” will be on view at LMCC’s Arts Center and Movie Theater Exterior on Governors Island.
Wednesday, June 14, 6:00
Wednesday, June 21, 8:00
Sunday, June 25, 7:00
The Dance Cartel: R2R Living Rooms, with DJ Average Jo and special guests, Pier A Harbor House
One of the most energetic companies around, the Dance Cartel will host a trio of live music and dance performances at the River to River Festival hub, with plenty of audience participation.
Thursday, June 15, 3:00 & 6:00
Monday, June 19, 3:00
Netta Yerushalmy: Paramodernities #2 and #3, National Museum of the American Indian
South Carolina–born choreographer and performer Netta Yerushalmy’s “Paramodernities” series deconstructs landmark dance works within the framework of modernity. For River to River, she will present Paramodernities #2, examining Martha Graham’s Night Journey, and Paramodernities #3, investigating Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, accompanied by scholars who will take part in public discussions. The seventy-five-minute production will move around inside the National Museum of the American Indian.
Thursday, June 15, 7:00
Saturday, June 17, 7:00
Sunday, June 18, 7:00
A Marvelous Order, Fulton Center
Joshua Frankel, Judd Greenstein, Will Rawls, and Tracy K. Smith have collaborated on the multimedia opera A Marvelous Order, which delves into the famous fight between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs over the future development of New York City. For the River to River Festival, they will present a twenty-five-minute excerpt at the Fulton Center, with Eliza Bagg, Tomás Cruz, Lucy Dhegrae, Christopher Herbert, and Dashon Burton as Robert Moses and live music by NOW Ensemble, conducted by David Bloom.
Friday, June 16, 6:00
Amir Elsaffar: Rivers of Sound — Not Two, the Plaza at 28 Liberty
American jazz trumpeter and composer Amir Elsaffar celebrates the release of his latest record, Not Two (New Amsterdam, June 16), with a two-hour performance at the Plaza at 28 Liberty featuring his seventeen-piece Rivers of Sound orchestra.
Friday, June 16, 3:30
Saturday, June 17, 3:30
Sunday, June 18, 3:30
Jodi Melnick: Moat, Fort Jay, Governors Island
Choreographer, dancer, and teacher Jodi Melnick, who has said, “I am truly, madly, deeply in love with movement,” has teamed up with visual artist John Monti for Moat, a sixty-minute site-specific performance taking place in the moat that surrounds historic Fort Jay on Governors Island.
Saturday, June 17, 8:00
Sunday, June 18, 8:00
Monday, June 19, 8:00
Beth Gill: Catacomb, Federal Hall
In May 2016, Bessie Award–winning choreographer Beth Gill presented the site-specific Catacomb at the Chocolate Factory, a dreamlike physical and psychological exploration of what we see and who we are. For River to River, the aching sixty-minute performance moves to historic Federal Hall.
Saturday, June 17, 12 noon – 6:00
Sunday, June 18, 12 noon – 6:00
Saturday, June 24, 12 noon – 6:00
Sunday, June 25, 12 noon – 6:00
The Set-Up: Island Ghost Sleep Princess Time Story Show, the Arts Center at Governors Island
For five years, Wally Cardona and Jennifer Lacey have been collaborating with men and women from multiple dance disciplines, presenting unique performances that push the boundaries of the movement arts. Their project now culminates in a grand finale on Governors Island, with dance masters I Nyoman Catra (Balinese Topeng), Proeung Chhieng (Cambodian), Junko Fisher (Okinawan), Saya Lei (Mandalay-style, classical Burmese), Jean-Christophe Paré (French baroque), Kapila Venu (Indian Kutiyattam), and Heni Winahyuningsih (Javanese refined) and musicians Jonathan Bepler, Reiko Fueting, and Megan Schubert. “Many dances on an ISLAND, a GHOST of what they were, having lost details during a long SLEEP but nevertheless the PRINCESS of their destiny. This TIME it is one STORY, full of fortuitous meetings, grave errors, and happy misunderstandings. It’s a SHOW, folks!” Cardona and Lacey explain. You can see the complete schedule here.
Monday, June 19, 6:00
Tuesday, June 20, 2:00
Wednesday, June 21, 2:00
Faye Driscoll: Thank You for Coming: Play, Broad and Wall Sts.
At last year’s LMCC Open Studios on Governors Island, the endlessly inventive Faye Driscoll offered a work-in-progress showing of the second part of her participatory “Thank You for Coming” series, which began in 2014 with Thank You for Coming: Attendance Play later moved to the BAM Fisher. She now revisits Play, staging a forty-minute version at the intersection of Broad and Wall Sts.
Tuesday, June 20, 4:00 – 8:00
Night at the Museums
Many Lower Manhattan museums and cultural institutions will stay open late on June 20, offering free entry to historic sites along with special programs. Among the participants are the African Burial Ground National Monument, China Institute, Federal Hall National Memorial, Fraunces Tavern Museum, Museum of American Finance, Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, National Archives at New York City, National Museum of the American Indian, National September 11 Memorial Museum (advance RSVP required), 9/11 Tribute Center, NYC Municipal Archives, Poets House, the Skyscraper Museum, and the South Street Seaport Museum.
Wednesday, June 21, 5:00
Thursday, June 22, 3:00
Friday, June 23, 3:00
Marjani Forté-Saunders: Memoirs of a . . . Unicorn, Melville Gallery, South Street Seaport Museum
Pasadena-born, Harlem based dancer and choreographer Marjani Forté-Saunders, who previously was in the Urban Bush Women Dance Company, brings her solo Memoirs of a . . . Unicorn to the South Street Seaport Museum, a collaboration with media designer Meena Murugesan and sound designer Everett Saunders that relates to the history of Black American magic.
Thursday, June 22, 7:00
Friday, June 23, 7:00
Saturday, June 24, 7:00
Sunday, June 25, 5:00
En Garde Arts: Harbored, Winter Garden, Brookfield Place, 230 Vesey St.
En Garde Arts, which was founded by Anne Hamburger to “catalyze social change” through immersive theater, will stage the sixty-minute site-specific collage play Harbored, about Willa Cather, Lewis & Clark, and Cather’s character Ántonia. The piece, featuring more than fifty performers, is written and directed by Jimmy Maize, with an original score by Heather Christian sung by the Downtown Voices Choir and movement by Wendy Seyb. During the day, you can share your immigration story with them and it just might be incorporated into that night’s show.
Friday, June 23, 6:00
Sunday, June 25, 6:00
Maria Hassabi: Staged? (2016) — undressed, City Hall Park
Last summer, Maria Hassabi presented Movement #2 on the High Line, a dance performed by Simon Courchel, Hristoula Harakas, Molly Lieber, and Oisín Monaghan as people passed by. That morphed into Staged, which ran at the Kitchen in October. Now Hassabi is bringing Staged? (2016) — undressed to City Hall Park, where four dancers will move around Katja Novitskova’s “EARTH POTENTIAL” exhibition.
Through June 18, free, 8:00
In his October 14, 2016, opinion piece “Donald Trump is America’s Julius Caesar” for the Daily Caller, Moses Apostaticus wrote, “Every so often in history a man comes along who overthrows a corrupt elite and resets the political establishment. We live in such a time. In our time that man is Donald Trump.” Freelance writer Apostaticus came to praise Trump, not to bury him, explaining, “Trump’s similarities to Caesar are striking. . . . Like Caesar, Trump has become a lightning rod for the growing discontent of the American people.” In 1864, in a one-time-only benefit to raise funds for a statue of William Shakespeare to be placed in Central Park, the three Booth brothers staged the Bard’s 1599 tragedy, Julius Caesar. John Wilkes Booth wanted to play Brutus, but the meaty part went to Edwin; John played Marc Antony, while Junius portrayed Caius Cassius. John Wilkes Booth might not have gotten to stab the Roman leader onstage, but the following year he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre. Which brings us to Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis’s controversial Shakespeare in the Park version of Julius Caesar, which opened tonight at the Delacorte a day after Delta Airlines and Bank of America pulled their sponsorship of the beloved Public Theater summer series. Eustis has transformed Caesar into Trump: Gregg Henry, who portrayed Trump-like presidential contender Hollis Doyle on Scandal, wears a blue suit with an overlong red tie and is accompanied by his wife, Calpurnia (Tina Benko), who swats his hand away when he tries to hold it. Calpurnia looks and speaks like Melania but has Ivanka’s blond hair, while tribune Marullus (Natalie Woolams-Torres) resembles Trump aide Omarosa Manigault. This Caesar tweets from the bathtub, but his smart, strong right-hand woman, Marc Antony (Elizabeth Marvel), is no mere Kellyanne Conway in a track suit.
In some ways, the play recalls Orson Welles’s 1937 Mercury Theatre production, in which Caesar was based on Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini ruling in modern-day Rome. Eustis sets his story in the Occupy world; before the show starts, the audience is invited up to the stage to add their views on the state of the country on a post-it and stick it onto a kind of anarchist wall. In the back of David Rockwell’s stage are three large depictions of the U.S. Capitol, a piece of the Constitution, and George Washington, along with two broken, movable sections of what could be a large crown or ancient architectural structure. The cast is dressed in contemporary clothing designed by Paul Tazewell. Caesar has just taunted the Roman rabble with the possibility he may accept their adulation and become emperor of Rome, leading a group of powerful senators — Marcus Brutus (Corey Stoll), Caius Cassius (John Douglas Thompson), Casca (Teagle F. Bougere), Decius Brutus (Eisa Davis), Cinna (Christopher Livingston), Metullus Cimber (Marjan Neshat), Trebonius (Motell Foster), and Ligarius (Chris Myers) — to bring him down in order to save the republic. So, about halfway through the intermissionless two-hour play, Caesar is brutally murdered, lying on his back as the killers wash their hands in a pool of his blood. It’s a horrifically difficult scene to watch, since Eustis is so clear that his Caesar represents Donald Trump. (A line of dialogue is even changed to include Fifth Ave., where Trump Tower is.) Like Kathy Griffin holding up an art piece of Trump’s bloodied head, Eustis has gone too far, past the bounds of thoughtful, provocative theater into a dangerous and extremely disconcerting realm. Staging such a blatant mock assassination of the president of the United States is completely unjustified and indefensible.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln? Well, in the first half, when Caesar is offstage, it is very good. The relationship between Brutus and Cassius is well developed by a calm, soft-spoken Stoll and a bold, dynamic Thompson. Nikki M. James is moving as Brutus’s concerned wife, Portia, and Nick Selting is engaging as Lucius, Brutus’s dedicated servant. Even the murder scene itself is splendidly choreographed, were it not for whom the victim represents. And once Caesar is dead, the play falls apart, and not only because of the Trump references. Marvel’s delivery of Marc Antony’s famous speech gets lost in a murmuring crowd that is dispersed throughout the Delacorte, Roman guards have been turned into evil, robotlike cops running rampant on protesters, and, for some reason, Brutus sleeps in an insipid yellow college dorm room. In a promotional statement before previews began on May 23, Eustis, who last directed Hamlet at the Delacorte in 2008, said, “Julius Caesar can be read as a warning parable to those who try to fight for democracy by undemocratic means. To fight the tyrant does not mean imitating him.” It also does not mean staging his assassination, even in the name of art.
Martyna Majok’s Cost of Living is a tender, emotional play about four lonely people seeking connections, which in and of itself is not an unusual scenario. But what is unusual about the play, which opened last night at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center space, is that two of the characters have disabilities and, per the playwright’s specific instructions, must be portrayed by actors with disabilities. Despite that setup, Cost of Living is not some kind of activist production trying to make a politically correct statement about people with disabilities; instead, it’s an intimate story about two men and two women facing the daily challenges that life brings them. The play begins with a long monologue by Eddie (Victor Williams), a poetic truck driver who has lost his license because of a DUI; he has also lost his wife, Ani (Katy Sullivan), who died as a result of some kind of accident that he might have been responsible for. Now sober, Eddie is in a bar, sitting in a chair and facing the audience, as if talking directly to us. Looking back at what he used to have, he says, “That life is good for people. I was thankful for every day they ain’t invented yet the trucker-robots. That life is good. The road. Sky. The scenery. Except the loneliness. Except in the case of all the, y’know, loneliness. This was what my wife was good for. Not that this was the only thing. . . . Cuz, y’know, you married a person. And a person’s gonna be a person even if they’re married. That’s a lesson. That’s a lesson for yer LIFE right there.” It’s critical that Eddie refers to Ani as a “person” here, because when we soon see her in a flashback, she is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair. She is a woman who is not defined by her physical situation, even though it is severe. Meanwhile, the secretive Jess (Jolly Abraham), a twenty-five-year-old bartender who has just graduated from Princeton, is interviewing for a job as caregiver to John (Gregg Mozgala), a hoity-toity Harvard man who has cerebral palsy and is also confined to a wheelchair. Jess’s main responsibilities are to help John shower and shave every morning, which turns out to be no easy task. “Why do you want this job?” John asks. “I thought, the experience and I — it’d be a very Meaningful Experience,” she replies. “Why do you want —” John starts to ask again but is cut off by Jess, who says, “The money.” “Good,” John adds, appreciative of the honesty. As the play goes back and forth between the two stories — which eventually come together in an unexpected way — subtle parallels are drawn between them, as Jess washes John as they grow closer, and Eddie washes Ani as they grow apart.
Expanded from Majok’s short play John, Who’s Here from Cambridge, which debuted in Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Marathon of One-Act Plays in late spring 2015, Cost of Living is carefully constructed by Majok (Ironbound, Mouse in a Jar) and her “dream” director, Obie winner Jo Bonney (Father Comes Home from the Wars; By the Way, Meet Vera Stark). They avoid sentimentality or sympathy — although the drama is deeply involving — while treating all four people as equals. “Self-pity has little currency in these characters’ worlds,” Majok writes in her notes to the play. “Humor, however, has much.” Wilson Chin’s set rotates between John’s stylish apartment, the hipster bar, and Ani’s home, after she and Eddie have split. The cast is uniformly excellent — with a particularly moving performance by Williams (The King of Queens, Sneaky Pete) — as they face their unique challenges, all four making distinct connections. Majok, who was inspired by such writers as Danny Hoch, Raymond Carver, and Sarah Kane, also explores class, something that can be found in much of her work, influenced by her mother’s experience after immigrating to America from Poland when Majok was five. (Among other jobs, her mother was a caregiver for an elderly woman.) But most of all, Cost of Living is not about disabilities or about actors with disabilities; it’s not about race either, although of the two non-disabled characters, one is black and the other Latino in this production. It follows the lead of Deaf West Theatre’s 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, in which Ali Stoker, as Anna, became the first wheelchair-bound actor to ever appear on Broadway, and Sam Gold’s version of The Glass Menagerie, in which Madison Ferris, who has muscular dystrophy, portrayed Laura Wingfield, giving more opportunities to actors with disabilities, whether the role calls for it or not. The play also has one truly terrifying moment, causing the audience to gasp in unison and, most likely after the show, reconsider their initial thoughts regarding disabilities, especially during the curtain call, which features an added surprise. At one point, Ani asks Eddie, “If I weren’t like this right now, would you be here?” The reason to go to City Center to see Cost of Living is not because two of the actors are “like this right now”; it’s because it’s a well-written, well-directed, well-acted story about everyday life.
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $60
Rebecca Hall gives a blistering performance as a woman struggling to deal with debilitating anxiety in Olivier Award-winning director and playwright Clare Lizzimore’s Animal, which opened last night at Atlantic’s Stage 2 theater. The intimate, emotionally involving play takes place on Obie-winning designer Rachel Hauck’s spare set, a small, horizontal space where the characters occasionally bring in a few chairs or a table, the audience of ninety-eight sitting in a handful of rows on opposite sides of the room. Hall is Rachel, a young woman who is suffering from mental illness brought on by an unnamed incident. About to visit a doctor, she asks her worried husband, Tom (Morgan Spector), “What if my thoughts change?” wondering if he will leave her. “Then good,” he responds supportively. “That’s what thoughts are supposed to do.” Rachel is seeing a psychiatrist, Stephen (Greg Heller), in the belief that she just needs the doctor to sign off on a piece of paper that will allow her to go back to work and resume a normal, healthy life. “The ultimate aim is for you to be able to stand in the middle of a storm, be buffeted on every side by the world, but remain centered,” Stephen says, explaining that there is no simple form for him to fill out and that it will take more sessions and complete honesty for her to get better. Back home, Rachel has trouble helping Tom take care of his ailing mother (Kristin Griffith), who is confined to a wheelchair. Meanwhile, a mild-mannered stranger named Dan (David Pegram) breaks into the house, titillating Rachel even as she demands him to leave. Rachel wants to pretend that she’s fine, that she’s ready to rejoin life, but deep down she knows that there is something that she is refusing to face. “I’m crying at counters, weeping into the arms of the checkout girls, not ’cause I’m sad, or depressed or — ’cause I hate myself,” she tells Stephen, whom at one point she envisions as a little girl (Fina Strazz). Rachel’s inability to separate fantasy from reality leads to a shocking, unforgettable conclusion.
Animal is a beautifully perceptive play, as Lizzimore (The Mint, The Rage) and director Gaye Taylor Upchurch (The Last Match, The Year of Magical Thinking) wade through the morass of one woman’s severe mental illness. However, there are more than a few bumpy patches, particularly when Rachel and Tom, at opposite sides of the stage, pick up microphones and speak as if they’re suddenly absurdist confessional comics, and there are a few instances where the dialogue lapses into more of a graduate school thesis than dramatic narrative. Heller ( The Who and the What, Belleville) is excellent as Stephen, soft and gentle with the extremely fragile Rachel while not being afraid to occasionally challenge her. But the play belongs to Hall (Machinal, As You Like It), who is mesmerizing as Rachel, a woman who doesn’t understand why she has fallen apart. Throughout the eighty-five-minute play, she wears the same loose-fitting gray sweats, hoodie, and ever-present tight hat — as if she’s physically keeping her pain inside her. The revelation at the end is no mere gimmick or M. Night Shyamalan gotcha; rather, it is a surprise that one doesn’t see coming, much like mental illness itself.
HORTON FOOTE’S THE TRAVELING LADY
Cherry Lane Mainstage Theatre
38 Commerce St.
Tuesday - Sunday, June 7 - July 16, $65-$95 ($39-$49 with code TTLRED)
Cherry Lane Theatre’s Founder’s Project and La Femme Theatre Productions are teaming up to honor celebrated playwright Horton Foote’s centennial (he actually would have turned 101 this past March; he passed away in 2009 at the age of 92) with a revival of his short-lived 1954 Broadway drama, The Traveling Lady. The show, about a wife reuniting with her husband upon his release from prison, originally featured Helen Carew and Lonny Chapman in the lead roles but such supporting actors as Jack Lord and Kim Stanley. Directed by multifaceted stage and screen legend and Obie winner Austin Pendleton, the Cherry Lane production stars Tony winner Karen Ziemba along with Larry Bull, Lynn Cohen, Angelina Fiordellisi, Jean Lichty, George Morfogen, Ron Piretti, PJ Sosko, and Jill Tanner. (Fiordellisi is the founding artistic director of Cherry Lane; Lichty and Pendleton, with Robert Dohmen, founded La Femme, which presents plays that have significant roles for women.) The set and lighting are by Harry Feiner, with costumes by Theresa Squire and sound and original music by Ryan Rumery. Foote won screenwriting Oscars for To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies and a Pulitzer for The Young Man from Atlanta but never took home a Tony despite such successes as Atlanta, Dividing the Estate, and The Trip to Bountiful.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: The Traveling Lady runs June 7 through July 16 at the Cherry Lane, and twi-ny has three pairs of tickets to give away for free. Just send your name, daytime phone number, and favorite Horton Foote play or movie to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, June 7, at 5:00 pm to be eligible. All entrants must be twenty-one years of age or older; three winners will be selected at random.
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East Fourth St. between Second & Third Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 11, $69
New York Theatre Workshop’s presentation of two works from Mfoniso Udofia’s ambitious nine-part Ufot Family Inner Cycle, continuing through June 11, consists of a pair of works of surprisingly different quality, one strong and intimate, the other earnest and distant. At the beginning of the beautiful Her Portmanteau, a circular portion of the center of the stage revolves like a luggage carousel at an airport, with various items and suitcases passing by several times. Each one represents an unseen person, traveling to a destination or returning from a trip; a collection of four sharp red valises of different sizes represents a family. Thirty-six-year-old Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Adepero Oduye) enters, looking for her suitcase, grabbing an old red one all by itself. Clearly upset, she uses a pay phone to make a call, speaking an African language. She is soon approached by thirty-year-old Adiagha Ufot (Chinasa Ogbuagu), who has come to pick her up because her mother, Abasiama Ufot (Jenny Jules), is late, having GPS problems. “My ZipCar’s parked right outside. We can . . . I’m here to take you back with me . . . to my apartment in Inwood. . . . I mean on the island . . . I don’t know how to explain. . . . My apartment in the city,” Adiagha says, unclear if Iniabasi understands what she’s saying. Instead, Iniabasi remains nearly silent and reluctantly accompanies Adiagha. She is still unsettled after going up the five flights to Adiagha’s apartment, where they are joined by Abasiama. Iniabasi eventually starts talking, but she’s not pleased with the situation. “I come here and find a woman who very suddenly, strangely has a completely different face from the pictures I have and who can’t even speak her real language. Yawping at me in English! What am I to think,” she says. Adiagha, meanwhile, declares, “We are so happy. I wish you could see my insides. Joy! . . . Joy!” It is soon revealed that Abasiama gave birth to both of the women, but by different men. While Iniabasi remained in Lagos with her father, Adiagha and Abasiama immigrated to Massachusetts.
Over the course of 105 minutes, they tell stories about their life, both good and bad, sharing anecdotes from the old days, when they were together, including Adiagha’s visit to Nigeria as a child, filling in the details of what has happened to them during the past several decades. But it’s not all friendly; Iniabasi feels as deprived as ever, and she lets her mother and half sister know it as they try to reconnect and become a family again. Her Portmanteau features terrific performances by Jules, Ogbuagu, and Oduye, who wonderfully capture the realistic twists and turns as the characters feel one another out and search for their place in this new arrangement. Udofia (The Grove, runboybun) and director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar (These Seven Sicknesses, The Golden Dragon) are in no rush to reach any conclusions, letting things develop naturally on Jason Sherwood’s homey set, above which an angled rectangular ceiling ominously hovers, serving as a window to the outside world, a mirror of themselves, or an ever-present psychological weight.
Her Portmanteau is being performed in repertory with Sojourners, an Ufot family play that takes place thirty years earlier, in 1978, when Abasiama (Ogbuagu) is in Texas, eight months pregnant, in an arranged marriage to Ukpong Ekpeyoung (Hubert Point-Du Jour), her energetic, charming, but untrustworthy husband who disappears for days at a time. Ukpong is jobless and supposedly studying economics, but he spends most of his time listening to American R&B, dreaming of making a new life in the United States, while Abasiama is diligently studying biology and working the night shift in a tiny booth at a gas station, where she meets fast-talking troubled young prostitute Moxie Wilis (Lakisha Michelle May). The rotating stage also introduces us to Disciple Ufot (Chinaza Uche), a religious man who sits in front of a typewriter, exploring the causes and effects of Nigerian immigration. As Abasiama approaches her due date, the characters intertwine, accepting certain responsibilities while giving up on others. Also directed by Iskandar, Sojourners lacks the charm and immediacy of Her Portmanteau. It’s too long at more than two and a half hours, and the characters and their situations feels more standard and predictable. The narrative is also far too choppy, bouncing around from scene to scene without a smooth flow. Even the soundtrack is less interesting, with overly familiar American songs. However, despite the disappointing Sojourners, we’re very much looking forward to the next chapter in this family drama. You can see the two shows on different nights or back-to-back on weekends, in either order, as each fills in critical information about the other. In addition, NYTW has teamed with Eat Offbeat to provide between-show meals for twenty dollars, which need to be reserved in advance.