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ObamAmerica - American New Writing Festival at Theatre503

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 15th Jun 2014 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin
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Julian Moore-Cooke in Whistleblower

Over Here Theatre Company was founded in 2001 by expat North American actors, writers and directors to perform new American writing in London. The company presented a two-week festival of fifteen minute plays about life under the Obama administration at Theatre503. I saw the production featured in the second week comprised of eight new plays and I very much regretted having missed out on the first week.

The selection of plays discussed some of the most relevant issues in America today - the NSA, racism, Guantanamo, and gun control. The big question is: What has really changed since Obama became President? And this question starts off the first play Whistleblower by Nasi Voutsas, directed by Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart. Standard (Julian Moore-Cooke), a young man of Dominican-Amercian heritage, sells overprized Obama memorabilia on Capitol Hill, cashing in on the ongoing Obamamania. Business is good and he is happy with his life. He wonders occasionally what might be going on in the Capitol that he doesn't know about. A lanky young man with glasses (Robin Toller), who works in IT, stops by and they have a little chat. Edward, the IT guy, is not particularly impressed by the Obama administration and they discuss what has changed for the better if anything since Obama took office. Needless to say, the IT guy is Edward Snowdon. 

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Neil Mooney and Lachele Carl in Alban's Garden

Rich Espey's play Alban's Garden, directed by Robin Winfield-Smith, discusses racism and paranoia. Ever since an African-American family moved into a high-class neighbourhood they have been faced with threats and hostility which led eventually to the death of the husband, witnessed by the nine-year old boy. Well-meaning neighbour Laura stops by as a representative for the Garden community to share her chicken chili with them. Sharon does not trust Laura and her do-gooder attitude. Neighbours with Obama bumper stickers on their car were among the most hostile when she and her family moved in - considering them an "invasive species" in their hallowed Garden. No matter what Laura says, she cannot get through to Shareon. Eventually, Sharon even suspects Laura of tampering with the food to harm her and her family.

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Yaron Shavit and Kenneth Jay in To Defend Freedom by Annalisa Dias

Malik Djamal Ahmadessaid (Yaron Shavit) has been imprisoned in Guantanamo without a trial for twelve years. His lawyer Bud Abramson (Kenneth Jay) arrives to tell him the good news that he is to be released at last. Malik is doubtful at first but then he believes that his prayers have been answered and he can return to his home and see his family again. Unfortunately, his "release" means that he will just be handed over to an Algerian detention facility. Malik is crushed and reacts with aggression towards his lawyer who has been fighting for him for the past twelve years. Finally, Malik relents and tries to see the ray of hope that his release from Guantanamo offers. His lawyer tells him: "Keep praying that they release you, Mr Ahmadessaid. Keep praying that they release you when you get back." 

This very intense play, directed by Daniel Burgess, is followed by African Americana by Aurin Squire, directed by James O'Donnell. Warren, a native New Yorker, who helps run the Obama campaign in Cleveland, explains that there is a huge difference between Americana and African Americana which has an alternative quality. Warren meets with downright hostility in the rustbelt city, cop violence being part of the experience. Whereas Warren reacts with endless patience, his volunteer colleague Caits (Laila Pyne) is outraged by this treatment, which Warren sees as "African Americana". However, there seems to be the hope of some normality when a Cleveland cop (Matthew McFetridge) stops them and instead of arresting him treats him as politely as any white American citizen.

Sby Keven Kautzmann, directed by Matt Steinberg, deals with the NSA and the renewal of the Patriot Act. Clare (Kelly Burke) has a love relationship with computers. Her first memory is of a computer screen with a few green letter blinking and moving and she has become a computer wiz who can hack into any account. When her uncle Joe (James Sobol Kelly) stops by after her father's funeral, she is less than welcoming because he still has a bumper sticker on his car supporting one of the people responsible for the surveillance state they now all live in. Clare explains to her skeptical uncle that part of the strategy of government is dividing the nation into two camps that hate each other. Her activist brother has disappeared and Clare refuses to provide any information on his whereabouts. Joe agrees to changing all his passwords when he leaves.

Kevin Armento's Let Me Be Clear, directed by Abbie Lucas, is a brilliant satire on Fox News, the gun control issue and Tea Party activists. After the recent wave of mass shootings in schools, the senate has agreed on passing a bill making background checks for online purchases of 17th century muskets mandatory. This bill is going too far for political analyst Barty Remmington (Kenneth Jay) who demands that guns be handed out at polling stations instead. He heavily attacks conservative Senator Delgado (Cherise Silvestri) who has agreed to signing this bill while the Anchor (Neil Mooney) is more concerned with the way she looks on TV than with the actual content of her program. When a radical Tea Party member tweets that musket background checks will lead to the legalisation of incest, the news station quickly turns this nonsense into "Incestgate" and the matter spirals completely out of control.

The final play of the evening - They Float Up by Jacquelyn Reingoldm directed by Lydia Parker - deals with the issue of the effect of Katrina on the less affluent communities in New Orleans and the state of health care, slightly disguised by a light-hearted story about the middle-aged Joan (Stacia Keogh) who has moved to New Orleans to become a table dancer. Darnell (James Mensah) is somewhat bemused when "Jucee", her stage name, tells him of her plans. Soon the light tone of the play changes and more serious matters are discussed - Darnell's mother died in hospital because she was too poor and too obese. 

Over Here Theatre convinced with a varied and impressive selection of short plays that addresses some of the most relevant issues in the US today. The cast was very good throughout and the short pieces were skilfully directed. When I saw the production on Friday, it was completely sold out - and deservedly so.

By Carolin Kopplin

More information about Over Here Theatre Company:
www.overheretheatre.co.uk 

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