Julia Motyka and Thomas Poarch in Obama 44
(© Peter James Zielinski)
Julia Motyka and Thomas Poarch in Obama 44
(© Peter James Zielinski)
Mario Fratti's latest work, Obama 44, now at La MaMa E.T.C., might feel more at home on an episode of Law & Order than on stage, where it's been rather torpidly directed by Wayne Maugans.

As mysteries go, it's pretty standardized fare. We're presented with a crime -- the strangulation of a beautiful young woman, a fervent Democratic fundraiser named Maja (Julia Motyka) -- and then asked to sort through various red herrings before the supposedly shocking reveal.

Is the killer romantically gun-shy Bob (Dennis Ostermaler), to whom Maja is referred by a previous amour? The play opens with their first date, in his apartment. She's flirtatious and aggressively candid. Making much of her aversion to hypocrisy and lies, she comes off like a sex therapist on assignment, sent to cure Bob of his mistrust of women. He's not only so intimidated that he repeatedly resorts to using a couch pillow as crotch shield, he's also creepy enough in his tentative, apologetic overtures that one must question Maja's taste in men.

Her next partner, Mel (Thomas Poarch), would seem to be cut from the same nebbishy cloth: mild-mannered, if somewhat smarmy. We first encounter Mel being interrogated by an unnamed detective (Richard Ugino, who manages to inject an underwritten role with perceptible personality).

In the course of the interview, we're treated to flashbacks depicting Mel's infatuation. His distinction is that he was number 44 in Maja's life list -- just as the candidate whose reelection she supported is the 44th president. (And that's just about all we hear about Barack Obama, save one crude remark.)

Initially, the detective's top suspect is Maja's brother (an effective cameo by Rob Sedgwick), the kind of right-wing, mega-rich mover-and-shaker who could probably topple governments with a tap of his Blackberry. His concern for the family "honor" prompts him to try to end Maja's sexual adventuring -- but is he the killer?

Having put all the players in place, Fratti leaves it up to the audience to spot the perpetrator -- provided one manages to stay awake through all 90 minutes of this ploddingly plotted show.