Mfoniso Udofia's play at Boston Court is not a satisfying play.
In the opening scene of “Her Portmanteau,” Iniabasa certainly does not look satisfied.
She's at arrivals at JFK - she's just flown here from Nigeria with a big tattered suitcase, the “portmanteau” of the title. She mills around waiting until finally making her way to a pay phone. Remember pay phones? She's calling someone back home. She speaks in her native language so it's not really clear what's happening but clearly whatever she expected is not what she's finding. When a woman, who we later learn is her half-sister, finally arrives to pick her up - things don't get any better.
As an audience, we'll spend most of the play trying to figure out exactly why Iniabassa is so disappointed with what she finds here..
"Her Portmanteau" is pushing against a lot of expectations. First among them is the outlines of the coming to America tale, familiar even in our turbulent political times.
The here that Iniabasa finds doesn't live up to any of her expectations.
Part of that has to do with complicated family politics. We learn that it was a mother, not a half-sister, who was expected at the airport. But it's also a question of economics: it was a verdant and abundant Massachusetts, not a cramped 5th floor walk-up apartment outside New York that Iniabasa imagined.
Maybe over there wasn’t so bad after all.
As the layers of family politics and history get peeled back we discover that - coming to America has long been a complicated journey for this family. At the heart of the play are a mother and her two daughters trying to unravel the convenient lies told and the promises broken.
The challenge with the play lies most clearly in it's ending. Without giving away too many hidden details - it's clear this journey to America isn't going to work out. Promises will need to be broken - other promises kept. While Ms. Udofia has challenged her audience with a difficult journey both emotionally and dramaturgically, asking our patience as she carefully unpacks family baggage, her ending is a little too neat and quick.
The solution, almost deus ex machina-like, is Skype. The thing that will bridge continents and repair old family wounds is streaming video?
That convenient answer doesn't live up to the richness of the rest of this journey.
But even if the destination isn't satisfying, it's still worth the trip because the performances in "Her Portmanteau" are heartfelt and complicated. These aren't stories you've heard before. I just wish the ending lived up to the promise.
"Her Portmanteau" plays at Boston Court in Pasadena through June 30th.
For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theater newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.