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Stage Review: ‘Obama-ology’

Obama-ology, written by Aurin Squire, takes place in 2008 and revolves around a youthful volunteer for the Obama campaign and the life education he receives from his senior colleagues and the folks in the community where he’s working.

Deborah Klugman

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Brie Eley and Nicholas Anthony Reid (Photo by Ed Krieger)

Obama-ology, written by Aurin Squire, takes place in 2008 and revolves around a youthful volunteer for the Obama campaign and the life education he receives from his senior colleagues and the folks in the community where he’s working. While the play commendably touches on poverty and illiteracy, and addresses in no uncertain terms class differences within the black community, its view of the ills that beset our electoral system, and society at large, comes off as quaintly benign against the current racial violence and polarization.

Recent college graduate Warren (Nicholas Anthony Reid), arrives in East Cleveland full of idealism and purpose. He’s promptly assailed by a bevy of campaign veterans who target him with a barrage of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts.” (These are presented by several performers on video.) His fiercest critic, however, is a fellow African-American, Barbara (a flesh and blood Brie Eley), who immediately gets on his case and accuses him of being a clueless elitist, doomed to fail in his efforts to communicate with less privileged blacks. Warren perseveres, however, with the mild encouragement of Sam (Kurt Mason Peterson), a more supportive co-worker.

In the course of trying to recruit votes —as Barbara had predicted, his numbers are low — Warren meets Cece (also played by Eley), a mother of two who shows an interest in working on the campaign, but backs off when it becomes clear she has to be able to read and write to do so. Warren sees the problem and assures her they will work through it together, but Cece is touchy about it. The ups and downs of their friendship, and Warren’s efforts to assist her (his other colleagues, professional campaigners, have no interest), form a significant through-line for the rest of the play.

Warren also comes up against the police who harass him without reason — but as this is a wry comedy, he eludes beatings or worse. (Again, it’s odd to watch these sequences, given the horrific reality detailed by the media nearly every day.)

One of this production’s central problems is also one of its greatest assets – Reid’s persona. As directed by Jon Lawrence Rivera, his Warren is a charming, likable and even down-to-earth guy — naïve, perhaps, but not so full of himself that he turns people off. His manner is gentle and he doesn’t use “big” words, the kind that might annoy street folk. For the conflict to play successfully, however, this character needs to be more of a prig, later acquiring the qualities that, frankly, this performer projects from the top.

Eley does fine as the vulnerable Cece, but her overly strident Barbara isn’t quite convincing, although she doesn’t get much help from Squire’s script. Peterson fills the bill in a variety of roles, including as a menacing white cop. Sally Hughes plays a no-nonsense campaign administrator, a convenience store saleswoman and a white suburban racist, and she’s hilariously on point as all of them.

Skylight Theatre, 1816½ N. Vermont Avenue, Los Feliz; Sat., 8:30 p.m., Sun., 3 p.m.; through Aug. 28. (213) 761-7061 or SkylightTix.com.  


Deborah Klugman is a  freelance writer based in Los Angeles.  She has been reviewing L.A. theater since 1987.

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