Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ sizzles

August Wilson’s words and dialog popped off the pages of his script, like beacon on a rot iron skillet.

Directed by Mark Clayton Southers, the Reading Round Table performers brought charisma to one of America’s most distinguished plays. The reading of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” set in the 1920s, came to life once again at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

DIRECTOR—Mark Clayton Southers speaks to audience. (Photos by Rossano P. Stewart)

Although, there were not any spectacular sets on the stage to remind the audience visually of the era, the words of Wilson’s fine play catapulted us through the looking glass of days gone by. Rousing laughter filled the theater during the sharp overtones of street bantering between characters. One could close their eyes and understand how hard it was, even then, for Blacks, never the less musicians, of the hard times and the struggles of us all.


The distinct and unique style of August Wilson’s writings is ever present all through the dialog of this highly acclaimed play. Performed in two acts, the mood of the era enveloped the theater like surround sound at a drive in movie. The performers gave life to each and every character with profound intensity.

There were moments in scenes in which one could identify with the characters’ struggles. One particular, occurred when, Sylvester, played by, Micheal Angelo Turner, has a speech impairment, (stuttering) during his voice over in a recording session with the band and Ma’ Rainey. After several awkward attempts, Sylvester, triumphs and the audience applauded with vigor. Wilson always had a way of making heroes of ordinary folks in his plays that was his way of giving pride back to the downtrodden. The most impressive scene to me occurred during the second act.

Levee, played by, Jonathan Berry, in an intense exchange with, Cutler, played by Sala Udin, damns Gods’ divine love loudly and vehemently, for not being there for him when, in his past, his mother died. It was a pivotal and defining moment in the play. Bravo to all of the perfumers, it is a must see and needs to be listened to by all. “Ma’ Rainey’s Black Bottom” is just one of a series of plays written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author, that has been performed on many stages both in America and abroad. AWC will host the August Wilson Reading Round Table, the first Monday of each month.

(For more information on this and other events at the AWC call: 412-456-6666 or on the web at Cultural District.org or August Wilson Center.org.)


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