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A CurtainUp Review
Ain't No Mo
Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, this pointed, often funny, satire was inspired by George C. Wolfe's 1986 play The Colored Museum. Cooper, in a program note, remarks that he is continuing the conversation about blackness that Wolfe so brilliantly began with his own play.
Be prepared to experience a 90-minute drama that draws on a gumbo of genres— allegory, tragedy, comedy, history, and more. Divided into 8 vignettes that are loosely tethered to the theme of human injustice, Ain't No Mo' falters now and then in its later sketches. But it drives home the message that African-Americans must carve out their vital cultural identity in a country that has oppressed them for centuries.
Time passes rapidly. After a Prologue that has the Drag Queen flight attendant Peaches (played by Cooper) hijacking Oskar Eustis' recorded welcome, the play proper (or improper) begins.
The lights go up on a soul-stirring funeral service for a black man named RightToComplain. In the words of Pastor Freeman (Marchant Davis) he was beaten, sodomized, and murdered by the election of "the first Negro President of the United States" on the night of November 4, 2008. Pastor Freeman describes the victim as someone who had "many mothers and fathers, and too many children with too many mothers to even begin to count." But the Reverend adds that his sad passing sowed seeds for a new day in which they can freely name their babies whatever they choose, including "Tyquamotrin and MonaLisaLaKeishawanda."
The next scene takes place at African American Airlines gate 1619 (the number 1619 intentionally mirrors the date that kidnapped African Americans landed at Point Comfort in Virginia). Peaches enters, talking non-stop on her cell phone to somebody called Ladarius— urging him to get to the airport before the last African American Airlines flight takes off for Dakar, Senegal.
It's not clear at first just why black Americans have all been given one-way tickets to their homeland, courtesy of Uncle Sam. But Peaches does point out that Barack Hussein Obama is no longer in the White House, but doesn't mention his Republican successor. Watching what transpires, it's not hard to fill in the blanks.
Once the basic premise is set up, the play veers in various directions. In a long segment called "Circle of Life" set in an abortion clinic named "Sister Girl We Slay All Day Cause Beyoncé Say Community Center" we meet a young woman named Trisha (Jeannean Farmer). She patiently waits for an abortion as the father of her unborn baby Damien (Marchant Davis again) tries to argue her out of it. I can't tell you much more since the power of this skit depends on its element of surprise and how it strips away facades to reveal the raw physical wounds and emotional scars imposed upon black Americans by white folk.
Cooper takes a different tack with "Real Baby Mamas of the South Side." It's a very funny spoof of the Real Housewives media franchise in which four black women brag and bicker about their affluent life-style enabled by child support payments. One trans-racial woman named Rashonda (her birth name was Rachel) is mocked by the other housewives for trying to transmogrify her racial identiry via quotidian nips of Hennessy, and reading The Color Purple. Yes, prejudice against white Americans surfaces at times in this play, underscoring the reality of reverse racism.
Other pieces, though less clear in their dramatic outlines, still offer something to chew upon. "Green" explores blackness from a fiscal perspective and how money can't change the color of one's skin. "Untitled Prison Play" is a send-up of what happens when a black person is released from prison and breathes the earth beneath her feet again. The wrap-up vignette "Exit, Strategy (Three)," marks sees Peaches closing the African American "Reparations Flight" but discovering that the "Miss Bag" —the carrier of our entire story as a people in this country—has fastened itself to the ground with invisible roots that prevent it from being hoisted onto the plane.
There are many ways of interpreting this play. Is it a coded diatribe against the current administration and its attitude toward African-Americans and other minorities? Or is it about the contemporary discussion on slavery reparations and the righting of past wrongs against them? Or, is it a young playwright's new twist on the Thomas Wolfe theme that insists one can't go home again?
A play like this of course couldn't soar without its sharp ensemble acting and production values neatly anchored in place. A special shout out to costume designer Montana Levi Blanco who has dressed Peaches to the nines in a hot-pink flight attendant suit and wig designer Cookie Jordan for his flowing pink coif, accented with an airplane hair clip.
Ain't No Mo', with its acutely observed portraits of African-Americans, is a dazzling debut for Cooper . Everybody who sees it is sure to draw their own conclusions. But, in the words of the Public Theater's artistic director Oscar Eustis: "Ain't No Mo' captures our moment in American history with a wit and invention that delights and provokes and disturbs in exactly the way theater intends."
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Ain't No Mo by Jordan E. Cooper
Directed byStevie Walker-Webb
Cast: Jordan E. Cooper, Fedna Jacquet, Marchant Davis, Simone Recasner, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Crystal Lucas-Perry
Set designer: Kimie Nishikawa
Costume designer: Montana Levi Blanco
Lighting designer: Adam Honore
Sound designer: Emily Auciello
Hair, wig, and make-up design: Cookie Jordan.
Running Time: Approx 2 hours no intermission
>Public Theater LuEsther Hall
From 3/12/1/opening 3/27/19/ closing 4/28/19-extended to 5/05/19.
Reviewed by Deirdre Donovan on 3/29/19
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