At the Magic Theater, old age is when time and objective reality start to melt. In Old Age, a cycle play from Mfoniso Udofia, in a multi-play series chronicling a Nigerian family in the United States.
When In Old Age begins, matriarch Abasiama gets an unwelcome knock at the door from a handyman hired by her children to fix up her old house, specifically the rotting wood floors. The play takes a few shot at the indignities of old age, including aching knees, difficulty moving furniture, not wanting to get up in the morning or change clothes, and dedication to television programs, but then moves on to the main event of old age as a portal between then and now and between the life of the mind and the life of the world.
As the two grouse and “get to know each other”, primarily on the basis of the workman wanting to get the job done, and the old woman resisting this unasked-for but somewhat welcome invasion, boundaries of all kinds start to slip and shift and merge. Time, space, and inanimate objects all get way too fluid as the two protagonists enter their battle, which is fundamentally a battle to connect.
For the handyman Azell Abernathy, played with charm by Steven Anthony Jones, the battle is unwelcome. What he really seems to want is to do the job and get out with joviality intact, but he cannot, and ends up confessing to a painful past, unable to answer Abasiama’s relentless inquiry whether or not he is a good man.
For Abasiama, whose past lacks a narrative but metaphorically occupies the beaten down house filled with junk and rotting floorboards, the struggle is to redirect from that vivid relationship with that past, illustrated by the groaning and muttering of the house she lives in, towards another person.
In the end, after the sort of violent transition that rips at both of them, they find themselves speaking each other’s truths, at least for a while.
For more on Mfonisia Udofia’s UFOT cycle, click here.