Ma Rainey's Black Bottom | Court Theatre | Theater & Performance | Chicago Reader

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom The Short List (Theater) Recommended Closing (Theater and Galleries)

When: Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Oct. 18 2009

Court Theatre's revival of the 1984 tragedy--part of August Wilson's landmark cycle of ten plays dramatizing 20th-century African-American life--crackles under the direction of Ron OJ Parson. Set in a recording studio on the south side of Chicago during the 1920s, the play focuses on a hot-blooded young jazz trumpeter (the superb James Alfred) whose rage at racial injustice spills over into his relations with his older bandmates (A.C. Smith, Cedric Young, and the wonderful Alfred Wilson) and temperamental employer, blues singer Gertrude "Ma" Rainey (the volcanic Greta Oglesby). The production's emotional power stems from the sense of spontaneity and intimacy the cast achieve as they spin alternately hilarious or harrowing tales about being black in a racist society and a white-run music industry. Though the play's final outburst of violence seems contrived, there's no denying the compelling power of Wilson's poetic storytelling or the ensemble's first-rate acting. --Albert Williams

Price: $32-$56

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