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Review: AIN'T NO MO' at Woolly Mammoth

Review: AIN'T NO MO' at Woolly Mammoth

43rd season opener

Thanks to Barack Obama's presidency but, alas, because of Rachel Dolezal's wannabe caper, American drama requires some updated, Black-originated satire; Jordan E. Cooper obliges with Ain't No Mo', his 100 minute whupping of white privilege, supremacy, and presumptive cultural majority at Woolly Mammoth through October 9. Cooper follows the late Douglas Turner Ward and George C. Wolfe whose Day of Absence (1965) and The Colored Museum (1986) lampooned white dominance with comedy both uproarious and bitter, and so does this show. It's good to have the real, live, three-dimensional exchange that only theatre provides. No disrespect, Dear White People, Get Out, Sorry to Bother You, and the canon of Spike Lee.

Knowing he can expect more from his 21st century audience than Ward or Wolfe could, Cooper doesn't just poke fun at white inability to embrace Black people as enthusiastically as Black contributions to culture and society. He also scores Black folks for some behaviors that don't usually rise to the level of anyone else's business, e.g. conversations about who is darker than whom (or lighter) and what Ms. Peaches describes as Black people's frequent decisions to do the opposite of what they supposed to do even if it do come back to bite 'em on. . . well, you know. Cooper, a fearless, equal-opportunity satirist, enables audiences of all racial compositions to swallow the despair and suffering inside Aint' No Mo' with generous spoonfuls of hilarity and irony: two extremes and the truth. And the medicine goes down.

Peaches, from the moment she first yells at the audience about their cell phones, serves as a combination Stage Manager/raisonneur/Greek chorus/show runner. She connects the episodic structure of Ain't No Mo' with the one plot element that attaches to each different scenario within the play: Cooper's notion that, post-Obama and Dolezal, all the Black people in American are going to want to depart east back across the Atlantic via her airline gate, #1619. Company member Jon Hudson Odom plays her with panache and power, wearing Costume Designer Yvonne Miranda's mini-skirted uniform which mixes werk-room glam with kente cloth and then accessorizes with matching hot pink satin footwear straight outta Mama Ru's shoe rack.

Each of the other five actors plays multiple roles, and each reveals skills, range, and the greatest of these is timing. Along with Miranda's costumes, Wig Stylist Korie Booker helps both actors and audience keep each internal ensemble sorted. Shout out to the dressers backstage, the air traffic controllers of the theatre.

Cooper's script balances ensembles with solos; each performer has more than one moment. Breon Arzell, boundlessly energetic as the over the top preacher leading the raucous funeral for Right to Complain or the MC of television's "The Real Baby Mamas of the South Side," performs a pas de deux with a Little Richard wig and then a Mikado-grade fan. LaNisa Frederick brings a moving range of emotions to a realistic scene in which a prisoner has trouble accepting the fact of her freedom after 15 years of incarceration.

Brandi Porter and company member Shannon Dorsey vividly portray pregnant ladies in an abortion clinic. The scene's impact has increased by 50 shades of chilling since it was written because of the Supreme Court; Porter's character views the procedure more flippantly than Dorsey's, and Porter captures the attitude and all the negative positives that attend it. Dorsey's character struggles because, in her head, she still hears the voice of the late baby daddy; Dorsey's work just wrenches. And Shannon Matesky's show-stopping turn as Rachel/Rayshonda (spelling, mine) evolves from the reality show segment as one of the strongest examples of how Cooper so successfully juggles howlingly funny comedy and laser anger at the same time.

The reliable, three-time Helen Hayes Award-winning Colin K. Bills' lighting design along with Jeff Award-winning Arnel Sanciano's scenery provide the focused and colorful matrix in which Ain't No Mo' lives. And Director Lili-Anne Brown manages this complicated, constantly moving, intermission-less play with simplicity. Like Ms. Peaches, Brown keeps the line moving and only supports Cooper's concepts and the ensemble's stellar craft and practice, including courageous handling of the N-word, the mysterious Miss Bag, and a depiction of a lynching.

In the Before Times, Jordan E. Cooper's Ain't No Mo' won a special citation for Playwrighting and Performance in the 2019 Obie Award season after its world première @ New York's Public Theatre; its Broadway debut in Tony-land takes place in November. It's much easier to take the Red Line to Woolly Mammoth.

(Photo by DJ Corey Photography)

Regional Awards


From This Author - Mary Lincer


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