By Deardra Shuler
Certain plays leave an impact, especially when it’s about children who find themselves wards of the foster care, adoption and children services system. Caring couples, who take in foster children for more than the money, find fostering is just as much a gamble for the foster/adoptive parent as it is for the child being fostered or adopted. One’s heart is at stake. People who are expecting to get the ideal child must be realistic and understand that most of the children who have been passed from home-to-home or from institutional system after another become disillusioned. And, depending on how these wards of the state have been treated, it’s not unusual for children to be angry, withdrawn or display behavioral problems. Via the play “Who’s Momma’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child,” playwright, founder and CEO Emeritus of H.A.D.L.E.Y. Players, Gertrude Jeannette, gives a peak into the dynamics of the foster care system and how it affects foster children and their foster/adoptive parents.
The play opens to the camaraderie experienced by what appears to be a happy family unit. It’s clear the children have a mutual bond and wonderful talents. One soon finds out these children are the foster children of a semi-retired senior couple; a former teacher and a retired postal worker. Somehow you feel the children have given the couple extra vitality and a sense of purpose; an opportunity to instill values and to show love to children so sorely in need of affection.
“Who’s Momma’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child,” is based on a true story. It is the tale of a family, the Lamberts, who find they must buck the Family Court System and Foster Care structure with its sometimes unbendable rules and regulations, in order to do what is best for the children under their care. It is often difficult when there are not enough case workers to properly oversee the children under their supervision. Exhausted social workers and case workers find themselves unable to look into issues or keep up with their heavy caseloads. This is the situation Ms. Murray faces in the play. A decent woman, Murray (Colette Bryce) inherits the case file of a peer. Thus, with more worked piled on and little time to devote to another case, Ms. Murray has learned to distance herself by developing a staid, impenetrable attitude and business-like demeanor in order to cope and/or extract herself from witnessing the pain of abused children and their frustrated and frightened parents and foster parents.
A former teacher, Ozelle Lambert (Cooki Winborn), along with her husband, Horace Lambert (Etiene Rodrigo Navarre), having raised their own children to adulthood, provide a home and encouragement to children they know are in desperate need of love and guidance. Each child came to their home with a unique set of problems but with the Lambert’s steady support and guidance, the children blossom.
The Lamberts are especially proud of Linda, a cheerful, dependable youngster who has a future in music. Linda, portrayed by Jasmine Coles (a young Janet Jackson look alike), especially feels the bonds of family within the Lambert household and feels especially lucky to have the couples love and support. She tries to show them by helping out with the other children who have become in spirit her brothers and sisters. Her foster brother, Melvin, is having some difficulty breaking the habit of stealing food, so the Lamberts patiently and gently pretend to look elsewhere while he sneaks the food and then assure him he no longer needs to forage it. They deal with the angst of each child by making them affirm “Who’s Momma’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child,” until each child can say that each of them are Momma’s Baby and Daddy’s Child.
One of the older wards of the Lamberts, teenager Mark, played by Jonathan Hudson, has come to an age when he wants to impress his peers and have money to buy nice clothes. The Lamberts do not have the money to afford luxuries since they invest whatever money available to support the talents of their foster children. Therefore, Mark strikes upon the idea of pimping himself out to the highest bidder. This he does secretly.
While life is not ideal in the Lambert household, it’s fairly happy. That is, until Ms. Murray shows up to threaten the peace. Linda’s drug addicted mother claims she has cleaned up her act and wants Linda back. Linda hasn’t seen her mother in years and does not want to return to the abuse she suffered during her time with her mother. But Ms. Murray insists that Linda must give her mother a chance and writes reports to the Courts and Foster Care system telling them so. Naturally, knowing what Linda underwent with her mother, the Lamberts are willing to fight tooth and nail to prevent Linda’s removal from their home. This developlment throws a wrench in the security of the other children played by Kalvin Singleton, Kalina Singleton, Maxx Carr, Bharata Selassie, Bheeshma Selassie and understudy Ishah Rose Maymouna Diop, who now live in fear of their own removal. Thus, turning the hard won peace into turmoil. Along with the discovery of Mark’s deception, the Lamberts suddenly find themselves about to lose two children from their care. The Lamberts soon find how easily their lives can be disrupted when disgruntled neighbors feed falsehoods to Ms. Murray, who is too tired to do a thorough investigation.
“Who’s Momma’s Baby, Who’s Daddy’s Child,” highlights the problems that lie within an over-burdened foster care system, children who fall between society’s cracks, and struggles foster parents can face when dealing with a bureaucratic institution.
With the help of an excellent cast, director Ward Nixon did a fine job in telling this story. This is a play worth seeing a few times.