Fort Worth — The cultural and historical significance of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and eventual ascension into the White House has yet to lose its potency since that monumental election more than a decade ago—notably today, as the country faces a particularly polarized climate, fueled by an administration that is rooted in divisive rhetoric and fearmongering.
Donald Trump’s America seems to be built on ideals that work in direct opposition to the themes espoused by the Obama administration—hope, change, unity, and societal progression. Whatever your opinion of either Obama or Trump, the objective truth is their respective political messaging couldn’t differ more from one another.
That is what makes Aurin Squire’s Obama-ology so poignant and effective. In Jubilee Theatre’s area premiere of the work, director Lisa Devine brings stark credence to the script and the prevailing themes that define its message.
Obama-ology tells the story of a recent college graduate—a gay, African-American man named Warren (Lee George)—as he arrives in the unfamiliar East Cleveland to work on the Obama campaign. Warren is full of idealism and purpose, but fails to account for his own privilege, which poses a challenge for him when communicating with and recruiting volunteers from the local community, which is largely represented by underprivileged, apathetic African-Americans.
Supported by his fellow campaign organizers, the no-nonsense and passionate Barbara (Octavia Y. Thomas), the supportive optimist Sam (Jon Garrard), and their career-driven though culturally tone-deaf boss Laura (Dayna Spring Fries), Warren experiences first-hand the rigors of intercultural communication and tremendous obstacles involved in affecting real social or political change in America.
The play, with its blatantly obvious tropes and moments of heavy-handed pathos, operates with a sort of clarity that forces you to forgive its lack of grace and subtly. Much more comedy than drama, this works. In fact, it hammers home a message that is in no way new or groundbreaking, but one that we all need to be reminded of every once in a while: despite our many differences, the things that make us similar reach deeper into the human experience than anything else. We all want to love and be loved, and we all hope for a life of purpose and meaning.
What makes this most clear is the tragic vulnerability of Cece, confidently played by Chris Sanders. Cece, a young, black, mother of two from the community who agrees to volunteer for the campaign under Warren’s encouragement, presents a sobering dose of reality to the script that, when done well, wraps the entire production with a sense of urgency. The up-and-down nature of Warren and Cece’s friendship as they learn to navigate their differences serves as an important plot point throughout the play.
The players deliver a thoughtful collection of performances that come together to create an effective piece of art. A dramatic standout in this cast is Sanders, who gives Cece a level of emotional weight that balances the lighter, more comical layers of the other characters.
When any artist sets out to explore a controversial, hot-button social issue, it is difficult not to become overwhelmed by a bombardment of “isms,” especially when it concerns being black in 21st century America. Here, Squire acknowledges racism, classism within the African-American community, police brutality, cultural appropriation, homosexuality, cross-generational issues, and so much more. Devine’s cast at Jubilee Theatre knows how to nod to those “isms” that belong in the periphery while driving home the concepts that really matter in today’s climate. Perhaps in another 10 years, those roles with change, and Obama-ology will have a whole new identity.