Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom


We went to London to see this production of August Wilson’s first hit play — the one that established his reputation — largely because we wanted to see what an English company would do with Wilson’s highly idiomatic language and vernacular, and the ideas that surround black life in America, all of which seemed unlikely to translate. We were largely mistaken. This is a terrific National Theatre production, beautifully directed by Dominic Cooke and designed by Ultz. The company, while not as comfortable with the language as a group of comparably gifted American actors might be, nonetheless delivered the goods. The play, which details a fractious, ultimately tragic recording session in a Chicago studio in 1927, had a big impact — big laughs in the beginning and big drama at the end; the audience jumped to its feet (very American, that) and we were thrilled to be there. Catch it if you can.

Jack Viertel

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