Waiting for Obama
PACE Center, Parker, Colorado
Waiting for Obama started life at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. In its latest incarnation, this dissection of the latest failure of the Great American Dream was directed at the end of August as a filmed radio play by Mare Trevathan with each of the performers lined up at a safe social distance in an empty theatre.
Although the residents of Colorado Springs, 70 miles south of Denver, Colorado, are ostensibly waiting for the last president, the odds on Barack Obama arriving seem no stronger than that of Beckett’s Godot making an appearance. Their discussions would have been significant five years ago, but take on additional significance in the light of recent events, as President Trump reluctantly prepares to leave office, kicking and screaming.
In the opening salvos of what is on one level a small-scale family drama viewed through the eyes of Luke Sorge’s 16-year-old Benny Welby, happy ensconced on a roof from which he refuses to descend, Chris Kendall playing Grandpa Hank is taken to task by Leslie O’Carroll as Grandma Martha, who objects to her husband’s unwavering intolerance.
The old man is one of those dyed-in-the-wool conservatives who is a scion of the Catholic Church and believes firmly in “those rights that made this country great”. In his eyes, the rights that will save the world are those to prevent abortion and homosexuality, while upholding the obligation to fight gun control and continue carrying his AR15 machine gun. He might be a little old for the job, but you can just see this slogan-toting, ornery old fellow storming the Capitol building with a bunch of his right-wing pals cheering for the cheated outgoing president.
The events in the 90-minute play are predicated on Hank’s firm belief that Barack Obama, a.k.a. “the boogie man”, is heading for their town intent on stealing away those God-given rights, most particularly to bear firearms. Although holding views that are close to the polar opposite of his father’s, Drew Horwitz as Petey is also expecting the arrival of POTUS, having invited the man for whom he has twice voted to visit. In the role of Katie, Petey’s wife Jessica Robblee adds emotional depth with a tearful cameo.
The story develops in the context of a time when random shootings have become a tragic but regular item on US news channels as Americans assert their “rights” to carry and discharge firearms. As we are informed, on well over 100 occasions during Obama’s presidency, schoolchildren found themselves at the wrong end of the right.
What was shaping up to be a moving vision of a country at war with itself takes a shocking new turn after a flashback to February 2002 and a random shooting by a junkie desperate for drugs, which affects the whole community. It also explains why the Welby family is at odds with itself.
The debate between the gun lobby and its entrenched opponents is then developed via a conversation between members of the Welby family and a visitor portrayed by Laurence Curry, during which Brits might be shocked not only by the statistics but also to discover that the relatively innocent term “open carry” when connected to guns including automatic weapons means that citizens have the legal right to carry them openly in public, although, somewhat illogically, they are deemed to break the law once they start firing.
According to gun lovers, this is protected by the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, a rich source of conversation between “constructionist” Hank and what most of us would regard it as his more enlightened interlocutor.
The cast members deliver universally good performances in a powerful, politically-charged play that uses the personal to explore and challenge the nature of American society today.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher