Ann Noble makes an indelible impression as the woman who gave birth to our country’s president in the World Premiere production of Mike Kindle’s one-woman bioplay Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story Of Barack Obama’s Mother.
From the daring interracial/bicultural relationship that seventeen-year-old University Of Hawaii freshman Stanley Ann undertakes with her Kenyan classmate Barack Sr., to her second marriage to Indonesian Lolo Soetoro and their life in Jakarta with elementary school-aged “Barry,” to the professional life she forged for herself in economic anthropology and rural development, to her untimely death at age fifty-two, exactly thirteen years and one day before her son’s election as President Of The United States, Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story Of Barack Obama’s Mother takes us on a thirty-five year journey with a single brilliant actress centerstage … and our imaginations to fill in the rest.
Unlike most one-actor plays I’ve seen, Stanley Ann does not have its solo performer portraying a multitude of characters in lickety-split switches from one to another. Noble is Stanley Ann and Stanley Ann alone, carrying on conversations in which only she can see the folks with whom she’s conversing—her young African lover, her pint-sized son, her mother, her second husband, etc.—and though this writing technique makes for a less “showy” lead performance, Noble’s work under Mark Bringelson’s assured, visually imaginative direction is nothing short of mesmerizing as she takes us from innocent, wide-eyed optimist to fish-out-of-water foreigner to confident professional.
Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story Of Barack Obama’s Mother succeeds both as biography and as theater, with a historical backdrop that goes from pre-Women’s Lib 1960 into the feminist ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s as seen through the life and accomplishments of a single groundbreaking woman.
Scenic designer Robert Selander’s bamboo-bedecked set suits the intimate-stage production to a T, particularly as lit to subtle perfection by Matt Richter, with Christopher Moscatiello’s vivid sound design evoking the Hawaiian and Indonesian tropics, then taking us on excursions to Seattle, New York, and boyond. Costume designer Paula Higgins gives her leading lady a bevy of character-and-era-defining outfits to slip into and out of.
Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story Of Barack Obama’s Mother is produced by Jon Imparato, Victoria Mudd, and Elizabeth Yng-Wong. Will Mahood is assistant sound designer. Patricia Sutherland is production manager. Kathleen Jaffe is production stage manager and Norman Cox is assistant stage manager/house manager. Casting is by Raul Staggs.
I knew very little about Stanley Ann Dunham (aka Stanley Dunham, Ann Dunham, Ann Obama, Ann Soetoro, Ann Sutoro, and finally again as Ann Dunham) before tonight.
I now feel privileged to have made the lady’s acquaintance thanks to Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story Of Barack Obama’s Mother.
The Davidson/Valentini Theatre, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles.
July 9, 2015
Photos: Michael Lamont