Why black men should see Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

If you’ve ever gone to a Tyler Perry play or movie and returned home feeling like you paid to see black men receive a collective slap in the face, this play is your answer.  There’s no light-skinned, and/or blue-collar hero saving the abused woman from the evil dark-skinned and/or professional man.  No choir will sing.  There will be no weddings and no one will come to Jesus at the end.

If you’re unfamiliar with August Wilson, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which you can catch at Actors Theatre of Louisville through this weekend, is black theater that’s probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen in the genre.  The men aren’t perfect by anyone’s standards; you have to expect some randy behavior and crass talk from a group of blues musicians recording in Chicago in the 1920s.  But unlike most plays, movies, books, magazines and blogs, Ma Rainey—and I would say, Wilson’s plays in general—lets the men have their say.  They admit to heartbreak.  They suffer from memories of being unable to help their families or themselves.  They question God.  They express their demons in heights of emotion usually reserved for female actors whose movie characters are delving into unchartered levels of mental instability.  The older men try to pass on their wisdom to the younger man.  The actors get a good range, the audience gets a fantastic ride, and black men’s issues get explored.

No in-depth analysis or spoilers in this post.  Just go see the play.  And if you haven’t yet, get to know more about August Wilson.

Update 2/16/2011: “Ma Rainey” is a great play for youth to see, too.  Click here to read why.

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