The superlative performances in The Actors' Group production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom were so convincing during opening weekend that when Ma Rainey (played by actress Micki Fine) halted the recording session to demand Coca-Cola from her white producer, a theatergoer left his audience seat to hand her his personal soda can.
As the audience brayed with laughter, director Lillian Jones rushed to the set to remove the unbidden prop and Fine continued with her commentary on American inequality. Such was the mood of the night- unflappable and focused. Set in 1927 Chicago, the revival of August Wilson's play highlights TAG as one of the few theaters in the country to have completed Wilson's ten play series on African American life in each decade of the 20th century. With unrivaled performances by Rainey's band members, which include Cutler (Michael Edwards), Toledo (Curtis Duncan), Slow Drag (Marc Cooper), and Levee (Jason Quinn), it is a remarkable reintroduction to a play about capitalism and power.
The men deposit thoughts on the white-dominated music industry, share jokes, and theorize on racism as they await Ma Rainey's arrival. Each musician tells a story, each more powerful than the next. Rainey arrives with her friend (Katrina McIntosh) and stuttering nephew (Kaleb Fitzsimmons), who she insists must voice the intro to the title song. Actors Ron Heller, Alan Picard, and Kevin Borras add to the tension in the recording studio, as the character of Levee struggles with both capitulation and stubbornness, at once.
Scholars have written about the Coca-Cola scene as one of the play's most potent moments. Ma Rainey's fusion of her voice to a bottle of soda is said to reflect Ma's view of herself and Coca-Cola as mere commodities. With convincing performances in every corner, all the tensions in the play soon bubble to the surface. No extra props needed.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will run at the Brad Powell Theatre until March 29th.
Showtimes: Thurs - Sat 7:30 pm/Sundays 2pm