Maja Lieberman cannot tell a lie, and unfortunately, neither can I. Mario Fratti's OBAMA 44, now playing at the La MaMa Theatre, inherently lacks the necessary appeal to enable the audience to sympathize with any of its bizarre and one-dimensional characters, thus rendering an uninspiring and overall lackluster performance.
OBAMA 44 centers around a seductress woman named Maja (played by Julia Motyka), who worked for President Obama's re-election before becoming subsequently murdered. The play focuses on her relationship with two men, her past timid lover, Bob (Dennis Ostermaier), and her current one named Mel (Thomas Poarch) whom she called her "44th," or her 44th lover in honor of the 44th President..."the best."
The first 30 minutes of this lengthy 80 minute play is about Maja's initial seduction of the coy Bob. In it, Motyka comes across too forceful, unnatural, and overly intense, and anything BUT likable; and Ostermaier, with his short, choppy one-liners who practically begs Maja to sleep with him, is more exasperating than charming in his delivery. The focus of the conversation is about lying and past lovers, and seems more like a therapy session on a couch rather than a seductive, magnetic scene. The first reference to Obama is the very final line of the scene when Maja explains that she's working for the President on his re-election and wants Bob to join her. Finally, the blackout ends this agonizing dialogue and we learn that Maja has been murdered.
The scenes to follow marginally pick up pacing when other characters are introduced. Richard Ugino competently plays the Detective who interrogates her most recent lover, Mel (played passionately by Thomas Poarch) about his involvement with Maja. During this interrogation, the Detective becomes intrigued by the allure of Maja, even in death. Various flashbacks are presented with Maja seductively posed on the elevated center-staged bed wearing nothing more than a long shirt or see-through lingerie. Her relationship with former lover, Bob, and most recent lover, Mel, are revealed in greater detail, including all the seduction, love, jealousy, and unnerving obsession.
We are also introduced to Maja's intimidating and powerful brother, played effectively by Rob Sedgwick. Sedgwick's small scene is perhaps the most entertaining and captivating of the entire play. Unfortunately, however, it doesn't last long, and we are back to more police interrogation, flashbacks, and nauseating sexual tension. The story is supposed to center around Maja's obsession with Obama, but unfortunately, this aspect is never fully explored, and we are instead left with two men who are overly engrossed with Maja's own sexual history.
Lighting by Paul Bartlett is seductive and appealing, and set design by Tatsuki Nakamura effectively uses the platformed bed as a main focus of the sexual tension of this play. Regrettably, however, the lack of character appeal, chemistry, and overall depth in the story merely reveals a dull play instead of an actual killer. OBAMA 44 unfortunately doesn't get my vote.
OBAMA 44 runs thru April 15 at La MaMa Theatre, 74 E. 4th Street. For more information, visit: http://lamama.org/first-floor-theatre/obama-44/.
Photo Credit: Peter James Zielinski