BWW Review: Ahamefule J. Oluo Honors His Single Mom With His Jazz-Infused SUSAN
"Parenting is just guessing. Anyone who says different is lying and their children hate them."
Judging from his very enjoyable showpiece, SUSAN, presented by The Public Theater's Under The Radar Festival, Ahamefule J. Oluo's mom did some pretty good guessing.
A combination of jazz concert, stand-up comedy and storytelling. The multitalented Oluo serves as host, co-author (with his wife, activist comedian/writer Lindy West) and composer of the 90-minute piece named for the single parent who raised him.
Directed by Jennifer Zeyl, SUSAN alternates between the charming Oluo standing front and center to wittily tell his tale, and music segments, where he plays trumpet while leading a terrific 7-piece jazz band, embellished by the hot vocals of co-lyricists okanomodé and Tiffany Wilson.
The story begins somewhere in the middle, with a surprise guest at Oluo's third wedding, his half-brother from Nigeria. One month after our host was born, his father left America for his home country and unexpectedly broke off all contact. Oluo emphasizes that his new-found sibling is only 11 months younger than he is.
A trip to Nigeria to answer questions about his unknown relatives provides some interesting observations. For one, over there being a light-skinned black man with a white mother makes people see him as white, as opposed to America, where most people would regard him as black. ("The default setting is reversed.")
But naturally, the focus is on Susan, trying to keep her two children healthy and happy through the struggles of Seattle's Section 8 housing and a string of unsavory boyfriends, climaxing in a moment of stardom when she wins a karaoke contest with her rendition of "Send In The Clowns."
This isn't a full-fledged drama. Details tend to get glossed over, such as passing mention of his father, Sam Oluo, being a Nigerian chief. (Oluo's previous I'M FINE NOW, which this reviewer didn't see, was focused more on that side of the story.) Musical moments aren't meant to embellish the tale but serve more as mood-enhancing breaks.
It's more of an upbeat tribute, using comedy and music to soften the pain as the artist leads to a lovely surprise at the finish.