From left, Kimberly Scott, Aneisa Hicks and Eunice Woods appear in American Conservatory Theater’s affecting production of “Her Portmanteau.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

From left, Kimberly Scott, Aneisa Hicks and Eunice Woods appear in American Conservatory Theater’s affecting production of “Her Portmanteau.” (Courtesy Kevin Berne)

Nigerian family’s conflicting emotions fuel ‘Her Portmanteau’

There’s an exquisite scene in the middle of “Her Portmanteau,” playwright Mfoniso Udofia’s affecting three-hander now premiering at American Conservatory Theater.

In that wordless scene, a woman alone on the stage — Kimberly Scott as Abasiama — rifles through her adult daughter’s suitcase (the portmanteau of the title) and discovers a stash of photographs.

Silently, and for a long time, she examines each photo, and the myriad expressions crossing her face are wondrous to behold.

That scene — about the grief, and the salvation, to be found in a lifetime of memories — speaks to Udofia’s theme, which imbues at least three plays in her non-chronological nine-play cycle. (This is play No. 4; the first two were produced by the Magic Theatre a few years ago.)

The scene also speaks to the excellent acting under the tender direction of Victor Malana Maog, who will also direct the premiere of play No. 9, “In Old Age,” opening later this month at the Magic. (Plays 6 through 8 are not yet written.)

All nine follow one Nigerian family across time and place.

In “Her Portmanteau,” thirtysomething Iniabasi (Eunice Woods) arrives in New York from Lagos to visit Abasiama, the mother she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl, when Abasiama and her second daughter, Adiaha (Aneisa Hicks), visited Nigeria.

Iniabasi was born in America when Abasiama, who immigrated in 1978, and her first husband were students in Texas.

But the infant was sent back to Nigeria when the parents split up and she was raised by her father there. Now he has died, and Iniabasi has a son of her own, in Nigeria, whom she hopes to bring here for a better life.

Iniabasi’s expectations for this visit are high, and they are immediately dashed when her mother fails to meet her at the airport and sends her half-sister instead.

Every other expectation is dashed as well, and the tart-tongued Iniabasi makes her disappointment, and her anger, abundantly known. “I forgot being polite is American way of life,” she shrugs when she notices that her insults are upsetting her younger sister.

Resentment, guilt and longing emerge over the course of about 95 minutes, playing out in real time, as the three women work through a lifetime of conflicting emotions.

Enriched by some dialogue in the family’s native Nigerian language, this is the most accessible of Udofia’s three plays staged locally so far, and it’s infinitely touching.

REVIEW
Her Portmanteau
Presented by American Conservatory Theater
Where: Strand, 1127 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes March 31
Tickets: $15 to $110
Contact: (415) 749-2228, act-sf.org American Conservatory TheaterAneisa HicksEunice WoodsHer PortmanteauKimberly ScottMfoniso UdofiaTheaterVictor Malana Maog

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Syd Mandelbaum created the home run tracker, which revolutionized statistics in major league sports. (Courtesy photo)
Home run tracker, with roots at Candlestick Park, marks 30 years

When Giants first baseman Brandon Belt slugged a solo home run in… Continue reading

Talika Fletcher, sister of Roger Allen, is consoled at a vigil to honor her brother, who was killed by Daly City Police on April 7, on Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Supporters march for SF man killed by Daly City police

Struggle over fake gun ends in shooting of 44-year-old Roger Allen, DA says

Curfews on indoor dining have been lifted as The City continues to reopen business. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City to allow expanded indoor dining, limited indoor concerts and small conferences

With new COVID-19 cases remaining stable, San Francisco will continue to expand… Continue reading

Johnny Cueto P was the starting pitcher for the San Francisco Giants against the Cinnanti Reds, Wednesday. (Sebastian Miño-Bucheli/Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Cueto leaves with injury as Giants take series from Reds

A latissimus dorsi injury to Johnny Cueto cast a dark cloud over… Continue reading

Tenants’ rights laws are often mysterious and written in language that confuses. (Shutterstock)
It’s not a good time to be a bad landlord

Tenant Relief Act, at last, is one positive thing for renters

Most Read