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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: A.C.T.’s “Her Portmanteau” Is an Emotionally Charged Drama That Examines the Problems That Divide the Generations

Mar 07, 2019
by Evan Almdale
“Her Portmanteau,” now playing at the Strand Theatre (1127 Market Street) in San Francisco through March 31, is a story that follows three members of a Nigerian family separated by marriage and distance. The story starts with a young woman from Nigeria travelling to the United States. The audience follows the story and finds the mystery as to who’s, who and how the three women on stage are connected.

The family matriarch Abasiama (Kimberly Scott) emigrated from Nigeria, remarried, and settled in Massachusetts, while her grown daughter by her second marriage, Adiaha (Aneisa Hicks), has an apartment in NYC. But Abasiama has not seen Iniabasi (Eunice Woods), her daughter by her first husband in Nigeria, in many years. Now she is eagerly and excitedly awaiting her visit. But when Abasiama is caught in traffic (among other problems), she must ask Adiaha to pick up Iniabasi at the JFK airport.

What follows is 95 minutes (no intermission) of clever dialogue, a few comical moments, and a lot of drama.

Adiaha is eagerly expecting a joyful reunion with her half-sister whom she has not seen since she was eight years old. But Iniabasi is hostile and remote, spurning Adiaha’s overtures. Iniabasi is a grievance collector, and her grievances are many. She is annoyed at having to wait at the airport for an hour; at the fact that Abasiama did not come to meet her; and that she is taken to Adiaha’s New York apartment rather than Abasiama’s house in Massachusetts. There are a host of other issues as well. When Abasiama finally arrives, she is treated more coldly than affectionately; moreover, Iniabasi seems guarded about her personal life and her young son.

Gradually it emerges that the source of Iniabasi ‘s resentment is the feeling that Abasiama abandoned her when she left the girl’s father and came to America. She feels that Adiaha has robbed her of her birthright. And Adiaha feels that she is being unjustly blamed. There are faults on both sides, but that makes it all the more difficult for these women to mend and overcome their differences.

It is only when Abasiama opens Iniabasi’s portmanteau that reconciliation seems possible. What she finds there makes clear how much love is buried beneath Iniabasi’s anger and hostility.

“Her Portmanteau” is an emotionally charged drama that examines the many problems that divide the generations, particularly when they are long separated. But creator Mfonsio Udofia does not make it easy for the audience as, among other things, both Abasiama and Iniabasi frequently speak the Nigerian Ibiblo dialect. When they speak, English, it is heavily accented, often leaving the audience to guess precisely what is being said.

All three women are outstanding and give passionate performances, although at times, the drama can be a bit overwhelming. Still, it is a masterfully written, superbly staged drama that offers a deep perspective on immigration and the complications of an identity split between the American and African heritages. In the end, the effort is well worth it.

For tickets or more information please phone (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

* * * * *

Photo caption: Adiaha (Aneisa Hicks) argues with Iniabasi (Eunice Woods) while Abasiama (Kimberly Scott, left) watches on in Mfoniso Udofia’s “Her Portmanteau” performing at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater now through Sunday, March 31, 2019.


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