Welcome Home: Her Portmanteau Rehearsals Begin

By Aaron Higareda

The coffee is hot, the bagels are warm, and the cast and crew of Her Portmanteau are meeting and greeting inside The Rueff at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater. Every show here at A.C.T. begins with a meet and greet, where designers share their vision for the show and the cast completes an initial read before diving into rehearsals.

To begin a journey, you have to leave home. But what exactly is home? Is it a location? A sensation? A memory? After you’ve left, what is it like to come back? This is a theme explored in Her Portmanteau, and it’s also a theme in the playwright’s life. Mfoniso Udofia, a graduate of A.C.T.’s M.F.A. Program (class of 2009), returns home to A.C.T. with Her Portmanteau, an independent chapter from her sweeping nine-part saga about a family of Nigerian immigrants and their American-born children. “It’s about what it means to be an immigrant in America,” said Udofia during the meet and greet. “Specifically, an immigrant who has aspirations of going back home.”

Director Victor Malona Maog and playwright Mfoniso Udofia chat before design presentations. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.

Udofia isn’t the only one coming home. Director Victor Malana Maog made his first professional directorial debut in San Francisco in 1993. His relationship with Udofia started at the National Black Theatre, where he directed a workshop of her script Sojourners, the first in her Ufot Family cycle. Maog is excited to work with Udofia again and shared his convictions about the power of her writing and the depth of her characters.

Her Portmanteau tracks the emotional and literal journey Nigerian-born Iniabasi Ekpeyoung takes to visit her mother and American-born sister in a tiny apartment in Manhattan. “What you’re going to see is an encasement of a 36-year-old dream coming to fruition,” said Maog. “And sort of running at the family like a train!”

Scenic designer David Reynoso presents his vision for the Her Portmanteau set. Photo by Elspeth Sweatman.

To represent this encasement onstage, scenic designer David Reynoso is creating a claustrophobic and contained apartment. The apartment will travel downstage a foot beyond the proscenium line, enhancing the feeling of having no room to breathe. In addition to the feeling of suffocation, costume designer Sarita Fellows will be looking at the world of these women in layers. Which layers of clothing are true to these women, and which are a protective shell?

Near the end of the meet and great, Maog said that he wants A.C.T staff and future audience members to think about “what happens when you get exactly what you want, and you still then live in isolation.”

Her Portmanteau begins at A.C.T.’s Strand Theater on February 15. Click here to purchase tickets.

Want to learn more about A.C.T.’s production of Her Portmanteau? Order a copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

Aaron Higareda is A.C.T.’s 2018–19 Marketing Fellow.

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