Stanley Ann

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Editorial Review

Fringe Festival: ‘Stanley Ann’ is a lot of talk with some insight

By Maura Judkis
Friday, July 15, 2011

On a Christmas visit to Hawaii with her young son, Barack Obama, the Stanley Ann Dunham of Missyng Pictures’ titular one-woman Fringe show tells a frustrated Barack Obama Sr., “There is a line that the absent parent does not get to cross.” Years later, visiting her son in New York, she repeats those words to herself.

It’s the dreams from Obama’s mother — not just his father — that take an emotional toll, and Mike Kindle’s play portrays Dunham as a woman who made great and painful sacrifices: first for her family, then for herself and then for her adopted countrymen half a world away from her Kansas upbringing. There are no revelations about Stanley Ann here that we haven’t already read, but Ann Noble plays her with plucky determination nonetheless.

Becoming an absentee parent is just one of the ways that Dunham’s life comes full circle. When she’s about to set off for Indonesia, having fallen in love with another foreign student (Obama’s stepfather, Lolo Soetoro), Dunham jokingly reassures her mother, “I’m going to repeat the exact same mistake, but this time, it’s going to turn out different.”

She’s right, of course, but not in the way she predicted. Though she thought she was going to Indonesia to be independent and adventurous, she ends up spending the middle part of her life setting herself aside for her husband and her children, all the while growing more disillusioned with politics following the Indonesian coup. When she’s able to send her son back to the States for school, Dunham regains the freedom she’s taught her son and her Indonesian students about.

Noble, a redheaded L.A. actress, brings a nervous energy to Dunham’s early biography — the years when the recent teen mother had just split from her first husband, Obama Sr., to sort her life out. Her Dunham is relentlessly upbeat, at first, until she suffers recurring disappointments — the final blow coming at a society party, when she learns the full details of the violence in Indonesia that immediately preceded her arrival. Noble pauses over a canape as she describes the “shooting list” of government enemies and then launches a shoe-throwing, screaming marital dispute.

Noble portrays an older Dunham with grace and wisdom, as she worries about the values she has instilled in her children. The future president is only a shadow throughout the play, appearing in her monologues when he’s scolded, or the subject of her fears.

At 90 minutes, which is long for Fringe, “Stanley Ann: The Unlikely Story of Barack Obama’s Mother” could use some trimming of the numerous monologues dedicated to finding one’s place in the world and railing at the injustice of Indonesian politics. Stanley Ann Dunham was a woman who wanted to carry the burden of all the world’s evil on her shoulders. Instead, she carried her children.