With Ann Noble’s energetic, solo performance in Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story of Barack Obama’s Mother, we come to learn the life of Stanley Ann Dunham, the mother of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, Jr. and get introduced to a brave, adventurous woman whose tests of moral survival ran thick.
The play, written by Mike Kindle, chronicles the life of Stanley Ann Dunham from her young adult years in Hawaii to her later professional life in Indonesia. Her first marriage was to a Kenyan, Barack Obama Sr., whom she met during her first year at the University of Hawaii. Her child from this marriage, Barack Obama Jr., spent parts of his childhood on Mercer Island, Washington, then Hawaii and lastly in Indonesia after Stanley Ann met Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian man, in Hawaii who she married, and together they moved the family to Indonesia.
Noble captures Stanley Ann’s character with a crazed fierceness. For the majority of the performance Stanley Ann is distraught in trying to piece together the fragments of her life. The staging choices are perplexing at times, and leave the audience more distant from Stanley Ann than necessary. In the beginning, her back is to the audience, a symbolic choice that is never fully explained. From that point forward, Noble tells Stanley Ann’s story in the hope of earning our sympathies for the ambitious woman.
New York Times former reporter Janny Scott’s new book “A Singular Woman..” was just published. Here, the playwrights help us to understand the decisions which affected President Obama’s formative years. In Kindle’s depiction it is safe to say that his mother took pride in accepting the cultural challenges of being an American in a foreign land.
Noble showed us that the decision Stanley Ann made to lead the majority of her life in Indonesia, away from her son, was a hard one. We experience her frustration and her desperate need to give both herself and her children a fulfilling life full of opportunities.
Whether Stanley Ann earns our sympathies is a decision we can’t make until close to the finish when her intimate, emotional qualities are more accessible. Being able to make this emotional connection earlier in the play would have been more satisfying.
Stanley Ann has 4 more performances at The Bedroom – Fort Fringe, 610 L Street, NW, Washington, DC.
Breena rates this 3 out of 5
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