Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

O-T Fabenle as Levee, with Giles Terera as Slow Drag CREDIT: ALASTAIR MUIRrainey.jpg

O-T Fabenle as Levee, with Giles Terera as Slow Drag CREDIT: ALASTAIR MUIR


We saw two plays yesterday.  This was the good one.

The Lyttleton Theater is part of the National Theater complex, which seem to house at least 3 theaters.  And no place to get a taxi, but that’s London for you.  After the show I had to ask the police where I could get a cab, and the answer was more than two long blocks away.  Strange city planning.

But on to the play.  Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of a series of 10 plays written by August Wilson chronicling the Black experience in the US.  I hope to find the other 9.

Set in Chicago in 1927, the play is an exposition of the realities of life for black musicians. Ma Rainey is a major black star, but it treated shabbily by her agent and her music producer.  Only by standing her ground and using her power as the talent that cannot be replaced can she get treated as she deserves to be.

Her band, however, have no power, and it shatters their lives.  They are continually at the mercy of the white men who run things, and their undeniable talent isn’t enough to get them any respect.

The set reflects the theme marvelously.  The producers office is suspended over the stage, connected by a stairway with a conspicuous “No Admission” sign the white producer is careful to keep chained across.

The recording area is the ground level, where Ma Rainey interacts with her agent and the producer.  The band room is on a lower level, raised and lowered to stage level as needed.  It’s an impressive representation of the status of the races in this time and place.

I could rave on for quite a while about this production. The costumes were perfect. The acting was perfect.  The writing created from sodapdf editor was astounding.  It was the best thing we saw out of 5 productions on this trip to London.  If it comes to where you are, go see it.





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