'Sojourners' and 'Her Portmanteau' comprise a two-part theatrical event running in rep at New York Theatre Workshop. They're part of 'The Ufot Cycle,' a nine-play saga chronicling the matriarch of a Nigerian family. More…
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.
"The two plays, which opened in a pair of stunningly acted productions, offer a moving and powerful corrective to the notion that what immigrants leave behind is always awful, and that what they find is always worth the trip...Ogbuagu is excruciatingly good...'Her Portmanteau' is a far more conventional work than 'Sojourners'...If 'Sojourners,' which feels more modern, never quite reaches that lovely peak of melodrama, it is both funnier and more excitingly staged." Full Review
"Exquisitely crafted and skillfully performed...Under Iskandar’s judicious and redemptive direction, the resplendent cast grapples with the complex dynamics of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation with authenticity and deeply palpable believability...Not only poignant tales of the deep relationship between a mother and her estranged daughter but also compelling examinations of the complex and intricate reasons individuals leave their homelands for other lands." Full Review
“Directed with skill and focus by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar…The images are ripe with emotion...Abasiama is played with grace and maternal glory by the magnificent Chinasa Ogbuagu…A moving play…The last seconds unsettled my heart. I was not prepared for what happened, nor what it would mean for the rest of these characters' lives, but that is the beauty of Udofia’s writing. The surprise that lives in the authentic-ness; a power that packs quite the punch.” Full Review
“Once again, the play beguiles...Under the direction of Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, all four of these mixed-up characters retain their claim on our interest and affection…Chinasa Ogbuagu's makes the most of her character's sly humor...The glory of 'Sojourners' is that its characters are so fresh, their dilemmas so unique to them...'Sojourners' is a constantly surprising work, with carefully shaded characters.” Full Review
"A master class in acting...At a time when immigration is one of the most prevalent topics, these plays hit particularly hard and, even in their slower moments, one cannot help but be completely captivated by the expertly executed performances delivered by every member of the cast...Udofia’s script is authentic and sometimes raw, and Iskandar honors these elements, letting certain moments linger for a bit too long...The uniformly excellent performances maintain the momentum." Full Review
“Udofia offers no easy answers, but her firm grasp of family dynamics will give audiences much to consider…Ogbuagu delivers a performance to remember: Her portrayal of Abasiama is as noble as ever as she struggles to carry the weight of the world on her own…Iskandar has led this six-person cast to finely crafted performances: The sojourners of the first cast have settled into their roles more comfortably, with choices pruned back to better resemble real life.” Full Review
"Performances are top-notch...Ms. Ogbuagu was magnificent in her portrayal of Abasiama - strong, touching, and human...My only complaint is that there was not enough exposition as to whom these characters were. We went almost 75 minutes without ever being told who the man at his desk was (Disciple) and how he fit into the story...Thankfully things cleared up by the end but a few frustrated audience members left at the intermission." Full Review
“So well acted...Ms. Udofia layers her characters with such depth. By the end of the play we know these people, we understand their wants, their desires, flawed as they are. What Ms. Udofia has failed to do is write a complete ending and she leaves the audience hanging. Calleri Casting really out did themselves with this ensemble cast who could not have been better.” Full Review
"If your time and theatrical budget can accommodate just one, see 'Sojourners'...Though the performances overall are excellent, it's Chinasa Ogbuagu who's 'Sojourners' most riveting presence. Her metamorphosis into the next play's character is reason enough sign on for the whole package...'Sojourners' is too talky and long-winded but director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has offset these flaws with his dramatic staging." Full Review
“The play has some narrative bumps, but is carried along by the excellent acting. I did feel that the ending was so underwritten that its import might be missed…Loren Shaw’s costumes befit the characters well. Director Ed Sylvander Iskandar keeps the actors going at full throttle too much of the time…Both plays have flaws, but the strong performances make them worth a visit.” Full Review
“A playwright with a lot on her mind and a seriously compelling storytelling gift…Udofia isn’t yet fully in command of the dramatic tools available to her, and there’s little poetry in her characters. But they’re fully fleshed out people it’s easy to connect with in Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s precisely calibrated staging. I’ll remember this writer’s name and the people she’s introduced me to.” Full Review
"On its own, 'Sojourners' might not shine as brightly as it does as part of a multi-part saga. 'Her Portmanteau' adds dimension and insight that would not be there otherwise. Coupled with Jiyoun Chang’s excellent lighting and projection effects, as well as Jeremy S. Bloom’s terrific sound design, a fascinating atmosphere is created that allows us to crawl inside the story and feel what it might be like to be a new component of the American Experience." Full Review
“If these two plays are uneven, they offer the promise of an eventually enlightening and binge-worthy family saga that updates the story of Immigrant America...‘Sojourners’ is strongest when it offers a glimpse, sometimes humorously, into the immigrant characters’ two cultures…If ‘Sojourners’ has the same overlong and unwieldy construction, there is noticeable improvement. It’s not any shorter, but its staging is smoother." Full Review
"I think it is more effective to see the end before the beginning, given the cycle’s themes of tracing the present back to the past. But I wonder if seeing the plays in chronological order would have cast Abasiama’s actions as revealed in 'Portmanteau' in a more nuanced light...In 'Sojourners', we see her story unfold in context and judge it through our own lenses...The video projections of water in 'Sojourners' really didn’t add meaning for me, but instead seemed very obvious." Full Review
“Though the result, as shaped by director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar and dramaturg Janice Paran, is often excruciatingly dry, the plays demand a witnessing of their American immigrants’ stories…The plays’ micro-drama needs a lively staging to offset its sedateness, but Iskandar has gone in the opposite direction…The scripts could equally benefit from a trim…The dramatic stagnation echoes the languor of their precarious situation, but makes for torpid drama.” Full Review
"'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 feel 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...However, despite the disappointing 'Sojourners,' we’re very much looking forward to the next chapter in this family drama." Full Review
“While the characters and situations are utterly believable, the play is poorly structured: scenes repeat again and again almost exactly as before. The characters are the same at the end as they were when we meet them, with little or no catharsis. To a great extent, at two hours and thirty minutes, the play is vastly overwritten. It doesn't help that much of the dialogue is in the Nigerian language of Ibibio and untranslated for the audience, most of whom are unlikely to know it.” Full Review
“The best thing about the pair of clumsy family dramas is the extraordinarily graceful performer they both revolve around...Ogbuagu manages, again and again, to make these two muddled plays occasionally cohere…There is promise here. The playwright has a delicate ear for dialogue…But such poignant moments battle with unwieldy monologues and theatrical clichés...Director Ed Iskandar undercuts what's best about Udofia's writing and reveals its structural flaws." Full Review
“The most compelling element of this double header is the concept...The facts of this story are often illogical as well as not written clearly. This work has been in development for some time, and the only explanation I can come up with is that Iskandar and Udofia are too close to the material...The cast does what it can, but they are not able to keep this production afloat…The intent of this story is spectacular and clear as a bell. As it stands now, the execution does not live up to it.” Full Review
for a previous production "Could not have asked for a better world premiere production of her exploration of immigration, assimilation, and cultural identity...From the moment the lights come up, 'Sojourners' is a transporting experience...I would put this ensemble up against any in New York— you won’t find a quartet of performers more perfectly suited to their roles." Full Review
for a previous production "It's always a pleasure to come across a playwright with a fresh set of characters and a compelling tale to tell...Part of the pleasure of watching 'Sojourners' lies in trying to figure out where the narrative is going; the good news is Udofia confidently guides them all to a denouement that is as surprising as it is satisfying...The rest of the production, with one exception, is equally thoughtful and accomplished." Full Review
for a previous production "Director Ed Sylvanus Iskandar has staged this deeply beautiful, complex new play with both compassion and humor...'Sojourners' is the first in a proposed nine-work play cycle. By itself, it's a rich piece, looking at how America changes the people who come here, for better and for worse." Full Review
for a previous production "Sometimes, the circumstances of a play don't need to be completely obvious in order to tell a captivating story. Such is the case with 'Sojourners,' a world premiere that cleverly draws the viewer into its mystery. By the end, you'll be hooked...Through sensitive prose delivered in memorable performances, these sojourners seem real, their specific anxieties achingly familiar...While the characters are crystal clear, the circumstances bringing them together are murkier." Full Review
for a previous production "Mfoniso Udofia’s mesmerizing tale charts the lives of Nigerian immigrants in the 70′s, showcasing a piece of the black experience our industry rarely sees...The sheer quality of the writing, however, cements Udofia as a voice worth heeding." Full Review
for a previous production "If 'Sojourners' has a significant problem, it's that Udofia is less adept at crafting action and events that match the beauty of her words. Very little, in fact, happens during the play, and the few things that do occur are not enough to completely support a two-hour-and-15-minute running time; the dialogue is good enough to prevent the show from dragging, but it has few other tangible sources of motion...The cast, however, is unfailingly wonderful." Full Review
See it if you want to see a unique story of immigration, marriage, motherhood, friendship, and personal growth. Beautifully staged and acted.
Don't see it if you are Trumpian in your views of immigrants and women.
See it if If you are interested in the immigrant experience and different cultures, interested in 1970s US culture, like creative set design
Don't see it if If you have no interest in the immigrant experience or African culture
See it if You want to see a finely written and staged immigrant narrative that is both intimate and universal.
Don't see it if You have as little empathy as the orange blob in the White House.
See it if you like plays that make you think. This doesn't spoon feed you.You have to see behind the words into the people.Kept me totally involved.
Don't see it if you like smoothly staged plays.The turntable is noisy and distracting.A split set would have served the piece better.But see it anyhow.GOOD!
See it if You are interested in how newly arrived immigrants assimilate into our culture. Includes intro to food, education, relationships.
Don't see it if You have no interest in the Nigerian culture or immigrants who move into totally new environments and the challenges that they face.
See it if We have seen parts 1 & 2 Both are very good but part 2 gets a 2nd nod. 6 very versatile actors.
Don't see it if I question the age factor for the Mom in 1 and then the Mom 36 years later in 2. . NOTE some glossary re: Nigerian language might work.
See it if Nigerian students at college in Texas cope with freedom, responsibility, and abandonment. Realistic characters and life choices.
Don't see it if You are looking for a light uplifting story with a happy ending. This play and its companion highlight the characters' sacrifices.
See it if A beautiful drama, a seldom told modern day immigrant story that is truthful and moving. Speaks with a truth we can all relate to.
Don't see it if If you prefer your dramas big and loud. No interest in immigrants or their problems.
See it if interesting story about a Nigerian family in Texas; new perspective on immigrant experiences; frequently humorous; Ms. Ogbuagu's performance
Don't see it if some characters developed in long-winded monologues and they become annoying caricatures; Act 2 much better and moves at a better pace
See it if you like family stories about immigrants and struggling to find one's place. The performances were very fine.
Don't see it if you need lots of action, you're impatient with a character driven slow building story or you have no interest in Nigerian immigrants.
See it if you want to gain new cultural perspectives. This story of Nigerian immigration to the US in the 70s is fresh, the performers are vibrant.
Don't see it if you are looking for a quick-moving entertainment. The audience sits with the characters through growing pains, and requires some patience.
See it if you are interested in the Nigerian experience and a family's journey over many years.
Don't see it if you aren't going to see "Her Portmanteau" -- another part of the Nigerian cycle of plays.
See it if you enjoy pieces that are politically charged dealing with immigration, assimilation and religion
Don't see it if if you don't like to be challenged by thought provoking drama
See it if You're interested in experiences of immigrant women and you want to see them deeply and subtly rendered.
Don't see it if Uneven writing bothers you. One-dimensional zany characters bother you. A bit of sag in the middle bothers you.
See it if A window into immigrant values in '70's, but some of the plot points are not explained. The actors are wonderful as is the staging. Partner
Don't see it if with Her Portmanteau for an evocative theater experience.
See it if you appreciate new voices with content that illuminates worlds you don't know, good actors and a script that tackles tough stuff.
Don't see it if You don't want to work a little to understand the Nigerian accents, have little patience for some annoying stereotypes.
See it if ... you are interested in the topic and can tolerate some cartoonization of the characters.
Don't see it if ...you like a faster-paced play. The writing was kind of flat and the staging-- that revolving stage-- wasn't effective. Repetitive.
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