A Nigerian-American Family Tells Its Story in Runboyrun and In Old Age

New York Theatre Workshop mounts two new installments of Mfoniso Udofia’s Ufot Cycle.

By Zachary Stewart

Don’t leave after the first half! Audiences at New York Theatre Workshop might be tempted to bail after the first of two new installments of Mfoniso Udofia’s nine-part Ufot Cycle, chronicling four generations of a Nigerian-American family. And admittedly, runboyrun(so styled) is a slog of a family drama, but it builds essential foundation for the second show of the night, In Old Age, which proves to be one of the most spiritually satisfying plays I’ve ever witnessed.

Judging from the family tree inserted in the program, the Ufots thrive in America — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t rot at the base.

When we last encountered the Ufots, we got to know central character Abasiama as both a young woman (Sojourners) and as the matriarch of a family that sprawls across borders (Her Portmanteau).

Like those previous installments, runboyrunand In Old Age aren’t successive chapters, but their pairing proves to be shrewd as we come to understand how the choices one makes in the heat of the moment reverberate for decades to come.

Chiké Johnson plays Disciple Ufot, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes plays Abasiama Ufot in runboyrun.
Chiké Johnson plays Disciple Ufot, and Patrice Johnson Chevannes plays Abasiama Ufot in runboyrun.
(© Joan Marcus)

Runboyrun depicts Abasiama (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) and her husband, Disciple (an unhinged Chiké Johnson) in their Worcester, Massachusetts, home in January 2012.

Fed up with Disciple’s emotional abuse, Abasiama vows to divorce him, but she has second thoughts when he reveals a long-held secret.

The play flashes between 2012 Massachusetts and 1968 Biafra, a short-lived breakaway republic from Nigeria.

Bathed in sepia (well-targeted lighting by Oona Curley), a mother (a fearsome Zenzi Williams) prepares her boy (Karl Green) and his sister (Adrianna Michell) for battle.

Their older brother, Benjamin (a heartbreaking Adesola Osakalumi), has already experienced the war, and limps on a heavily bandaged leg.

“That is what happened to me,” he explains at the end of an extended monologue, “upon crossing uncertain roads.”

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