Georgetown’s Black Theatre Ensemble’s production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” which runs from March 21 to 24 at 8 p.m. in the Devine Studio Theatre is filled with humor, heartbreak, drama and wonderful vocal performances. This cast of 10 young actors and actresses is directed by Princess Fuller (SFS ’13) and produced by Rachel Carrig (COL ’13). The cast includes Special Projects Coordinator Candace Mosely, Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson (SFS ’14), Kim Maima (SFS ’15), TanishaHumphrey (SFS ’12), Jarvis Matthews (COL ’12), Joshua Street (COL ’15), Harrison Meek (COL ’12) Will Redmond (COL ’15), Jackson Sinnenberg (COL ’15) and Ben Mazzara (COL ’15).

Set in 1920s Chicago, this play depicts the struggles and racism that African Americans faced at the time when Ma Rainey was claiming her spot as the mother of jazz. Though her moment of glory is fading, she uses her position of power to make trivial yet insistent demands that leave the audience cracking up. This play provides a new, raw glimpse into the culture and society of the time by focusing on the personal struggles of each band member. It also looks at the upfront issue of black members of the band feeling used and unappreciated by white music producers.

Although on the surface it looks like nothing more than a business deal, as the play unfolds, the core issues of differing social status and personal image take the stage. “Within this play, Wilson celebrates America’s black man for all that he is: his tenacity, his pride, his wisdom, his moments of vulnerability, his humor and wit, his knowledge, his desire to accomplish the unachievable, his moments of despair, his unrelenting love for justice and, most importantly, his broken spirit that dares to triumph over the odds set against him,” says Fuller. “The essential music component of ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ is not only another tool used to tell history, but also [is] a character within itself.” The witty, light-hearted banter of the band members while waiting for Ma Rainey’s arrival gives glimpses and anecdotes of the personal struggles of each member due to the racism of the time.

While this play is incredibly raw and emotional due to the serious background of the cultural setting, there is humor and excellent singing to be heard throughout. Slow Drag, Levee and Ma Rainey, played respectively by Mathews, Street and Corbin-Johnson, showed off their outstanding vocals as they sang their jazz in the recording studio. The music alone is enough to keep the audience entertained.

The play is set in a recording studio, where Ma Rainey along with her band are scheduled to record four songs. It sounds simple enough, but the underlying tensions between some of the band members, along with the private ambitions of the musician, Levee, fill this story with anticipation and emotional drama. Along with the problems within the band, the hostility between the white producers and black musicians unfolds as emotions escalate, ending in the psychological breakdown and irrational actions of certain members of the band.

Corbin-Johnson is wonderful in her portrayal of uptight diva Ma Rainey as she makes demands left and right and forces the people around her to wait on her hand and foot, an attitude she developed intentionally to spite the white man’s view of superiority over her. Though she has her name in the title, Ma Rainey is a secondary character to Levee, played by Street, the angry suppressed character whose resentment builds throughout the play. His phenomenal acting truly keeps the audience on its toes as his unpredictable behavior takes over his reason. Toledo and Cutler, the more intellectual members of the group, are played by Mosely and Humphrey, respectively. Despite the gender swap, their portrayal of these musicians was incredible as they conquered religion and acceptance with their cultural situation. Toledo’s interesting observations on the lot of the black man gave an interesting contrast to Levee’s bitter animosity toward the white people.

All in all, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a delightfully entertaining play, confronting powerful issues while still maintaining some much-needed levity. If nothing else, this play is worth seeing for the phenomenal performances put forth by the strong cast. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” will be performed in the Devine Studio Theatre Wednesday, Mar. 21 through Saturday, Mar. 24 at 8 p.m. and again on Sunday, Mar. 25 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $8 for general admission.

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