We are introduced to the story of runboyrun through ghosts, although we do not yet know that that is what they are. At the beginning of the play they are just two characters from a different time and place: Sister (Katherine Turner) and Boy (Rotimi Agbabiaka).
The meat of the action begins with Disciple (Adrian Roberts) returning home to his wife, Abasiama (Omoze Idehenre), who is buried under blankets, trying to keep out the frigid New England winter. After a tense exchange, he descends into the basement where he strips off his outerwear and tries to write about Nigeria. It is there in the basement that the ghosts come to him. He doesn’t see them, but he senses their presence, as they inhabit the space, to the point of physically invading his.
The ghosts: Sister, Boy, Mother (Nancy Moricette), and Ben Gun (Rafael Jordan), are a point of contention between Disciple and Abasiama. He is convinced that they are her doing and is suspicious to the point where he thinks she might be poisoning him with her traditional, Nigerian, cooking. She has no idea what he’s talking about but senses that something is seriously wrong.
As we come to find out, it is not her at all, but his own memories of the Biafran War that are haunting him. Boy is Disciple fifty years earlier. The others are his family.
Mfoniso Udofia has written a play that hits you hard and never lets up. The dialogue is peppered with vivid images of Nigeria during the war. You can’t help but feel for the characters, both in the past and the present, as they try to navigate their circumstances. The actors take Udofia’s text and make it their own right down to the Ibibo accents. Accents can sometimes feel stilted, even if they are technically correct, but that it not the case here.
Where the production falters is in the set. It is difficult to have two distinct spaces on a small stage so the delineation between the basement and the first floor gets muddled. Because of this, it is sometimes unclear whether the ghosts are haunting only Disciple, or Abasiama as well.
I also found the direction and pacing to be off. Overall this is a dark play with some moments of levity, but even with a dark, intense, play it is important to have an ebb and flow. Here, the action is constantly frenzied, and especially towards the second half there are few moments of calm. I would have liked Sean San Jose to find the quiet intensity in the story as well as the frenetic energy.
Overall, this play is well worth the trek out to Fort Mason. Udofia is a talented playwright and the cast is superb. It is not often that we get to see African or African immigrant stories on stage in this country, and it is important that those narratives get told.
Reasons to Go
- Beautifully rendered story of an immigrant experience that is not often written about in the US
- The acting is top notch
- The storytelling includes a history lesson about Nigeria post-independence
Who should go: Adults and teens, although there are some moments that could be upsetting for a younger audience
- Fort Mason is off the beaten track for many San Franciscans and East Bay residents, so make a day of it and visit the rest of the site
- Read AIC’s Sojourner’s review for a background about the characters
Themes: marriage, the immigrant experience, Nigerian history, Biafran war
Show information: runboyrun is playing at the Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Boulevard, Building D, San Francisco until May 15. Tickets available on the Magic Theatre website.