Review: World premiere of ‘In Old Age’ by Mfoniso Udofia at Magic Theatre (****)

by Charles Kruger

Azell (Steven Anthony Jones) and Abasiama (Nancy Morisette) are more than a little wary of one another in Magic Theatre’s world premiere of “In Old Age” by Mfoniso Udofia. Photo credit: Jennifer Reiley.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

On the surface, Mfoniso Udofia’s two hander, “In Old Age,” is a straightforward, conventional romance about two lonely old folks who meet cute, and find they are capable of a last dance that they didn’t expect. A sort of “Love Among The Ruins” reimagined for Black actors in Worcester, Massachusetts. If that were all, this would be a charming play, beautifully acted and well staged but not especially remarkable.

But it is remarkable. Beneath the surface, “In Old Age” hints at and gradually reveals a depth of experience, emotional resonance, memory, and connection between these two people that leaves one breathless.

In the beginning, Abasiama seems to be a stock figure of a conventionally crotchety old woman, lonely and lost in daytime TV. And the handyman Azell seems little more than the easygoing old church fellow he presents.

Azell shows up at Abasiama’s door at the bequest of her daughter with instructions to repair the floor, “no matter what.” It is clear that “no matter what” may refer, among other things, to Abasiama’s angry resistance.

But when Abasiama unexpectedly fixes him with a fierce look and demands to know: “What sort of man are you!” something opens up between them and their struggle becomes high stakes.

It is as if a chasm opens up and all of their life history and more bursts into the room and presses upon them. We see them recoil from the force of it. They are not just Azell and Abasiama, but all of their history, and the history of their families, of the American South and Africa, and their ancestors and their children and their past lovers: everything seems to fly through the air like a dangerous, invisible hail storm.

The house itself seems to come alive with mysterious and portentous knockings. We find ourselves in an altogether different play then we had expected, perhaps a ghost story, perhaps not. The simple narrative is usurped by history as two badly damaged people begin a healing journey.

The action of the play covers several encounters between the two over a week’s time. Gradually we learn something of their history, and how Azell’s’ seemingly easy manner covers as much deep hurt as Abasiama’s alternating anger and despair. By mid week, it seems as if the storm of emotional history their encounter has evoked will destroy them, but, in the end, they find a way to one another.

“In Old Age” is a play that makes unusual demands upon the actors, insisting that they achieve heights of emotional and spiritual intensity more typical of Greek tragedy or the ancient patakis of Nigerian folk tradition than a contemporary American love story.

Nancy Morisette and Steven Anthony Jones are clearly up to the challenge, and director Victor Malana Maog has led them to explore every nook and cranny of this rich story. It is astonishing the way Jones gradually allows Azell’s woundedness to come to the surface, and equally moving to see Nancy Morisette’s  Abasiama break down and come back together as she finds the strength through unexpected love to face the many demons of her past.

“in Old Age” takes audiences on a dizzying emotional ride, certain to be remembered long after the show has closed.

“In Old Age” plays at the Magic through April 21st, 2018. For further information, click here


Rating: ****(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)


In Old Age” by Mfoniso Udofia. A world premiere presented by Magic Theatre. Director: Victor Malana Maog. Set Design: Andrew Boyce. Costume Design: Courtney Flores. Lighting Design: York Kennedy. Sound Design: Sara Huddleston. Stage Manager: Christina Hogan. 

Cast:

Abasiama: Nancy Moricette.
Azell: Steven Anthony Jones

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