After moving to New York City nearly a decade ago, Mfoniso Udofia began to ask herself some hard questions: “Who am I?” and “What does it mean to be both African and American?” She was a recent graduate of the master’s program at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, but the four to five auditions a week she was going to weren’t resulting in work. As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she found it puzzling to be repeatedly told that she wasn’t “African enough.”
“I wasn’t right because somebody else had a different image in their head of what an African woman is supposed to look like, or be,” Ms. Udofia, 33, said, adding that this image was tied to someone “skinnier.”
But those hard questions pushed her to write her first play: “The Grove,” about a Nigerian-American named Adiagha who tries to reconcile her American upbringing with her Nigerian heritage. That spawned a prequel with Adiagha’s mother called “Sojourners,” then another play, and then another. “It just started spiraling as I became more and more fascinated with the characters,” Ms. Udofia said.
That spiraling wound itself into “The Ufot Cycle,” a planned series of nine plays looking at the history of Nigerian immigration in America through the eyes of one family. Two of the plays, “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau,” have had their runs in repertory at New York Theater Workshop extended through June 11. (The Playwrights Realm, where “Sojourners” had its premiere, helped finance the run.) It’s a one-two punch of storytelling, and it’s a feat because when Ms. Udofia began writing those stories, she didn’t know if they would ever be produced.
“I was hoping people would read and take interest,” she said. “But it just felt important to know that somewhere in the world, this thing existed.”
The reception has been positive. In The New York Times, Jesse Green called the two plays “extraordinary” and “stunningly acted.” Taken together, he wrote, they “offer a moving and powerful corrective to the notion that what immigrants leave behind is always awful, and that what they find is always worth the trip.”
“Sojourners” takes place in 1978 and is about a young Nigerian couple, Abasiama and her husband, Ukpong, who immigrate to Houston to attend college. “Her Portmanteau” is set more than 30 years later, and sees Abasiama now with two daughters: Adiagha, raised in America, and Iniabasi, raised in Nigeria. It’s a sprawling series, moving between the United States and Nigeria, and also across time and space.