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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Philadelphia Theater Company and
Baltimore Stage

May 26-June 13, 2010
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Airs May 28, 2010

A sponsor of the Philadelphia Theater Company’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of August Wilson’s 10 plays about the African American experience, welcomed diversity onto the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theater the other night. Wilson’s great cycle is both black and color blind. Ma Rainey’s blues band in Chicago, 1920 endures racial slings and injustices but it comprises characters found in any in family black or white. Who doesn’t recognize Toledo, the piano player with his nose in a book? The philosopher who knows and can’t help explaining everything. Toledo’s so full of wisdom he amuse us when we’re not tuning him out. Thomas Jefferson Byrd’s. who was nominated for a Tony, when he played this role on Broadway) is perfect. He is funny and a bore; the molasses delivery, the expressive fingers. Toledo exasperates the Levee of Maurice McRae, the cool shark with his sharp shoes and coiled heart. More understanding are the band members: Slow Drag(the amiable Ernest Perry) whose way of life appears pleasure and whose string bass is the perfect metaphor. Cutler (David Fonteno) the leader who reins everyone in as they wait for diva Ma to come to the recording sessions she is going to rule for there is a battle going on between management and talent across the racial divide of the times. Because she gets her way in little else, Ma Rainey rules by terror.
But must Barrymore winner E. Faye Butler be so strident? Yes, the voice is powerful but she doesn’t sound like a blues singer. Too many tones are bitter.
As her nephew Sylvester, 23- year- old Ro Boddee has pivotal part as the stuttering nephew.
The director is Irene Lewis, from Baltimore’s CenterStage.
The music director for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is William McDaniels.
Keeping the upstairs and downstairs on the same flat boards – lacks imagination for
such a powerful work.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Philadelphia Theatre Company
May 26-June 13, 2010
Suzanne Roberts Theatre
Airs May 28, 2010

A sponsor of the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the first of August Wilson’s 10 plays about the African -American experience, welcomed diversity onto the stage of the Suzanne Roberts Theater the other night. Wilson’s great cycle is both black and color blind. Ma Rainey’s blues band in Chicago, 1920, endures racial slings and injustice but it comprises characters found in any in family black or white. Who doesn’t recognize Toledo, the piano player with his nose in a book? The philosopher who knows and can’t help explaining everything? Toledo’s so full of wisdom he amuse us when we’re not tuning him out. Thomas Jefferson Byrd, who was nominated for a Tony, when he played this role on Broadway) is perfect. He is funny and a bore; the molasses delivery, the expressive fingers, the ivory tower stance (And the voice is beautiful.)
Toledo exasperates the Levee of Maurice McRae, the adolescent shark with sharp shoes and the tender, coiled heart. It’s a performance McRae nails with a 100 gestures, silly struts and pent-up rage. And he can play that trumpet too. More understanding of Toledo are band members Slow Drag (Ernest Perry) whose way of life appears pleasure and whose string bass is the perfect metaphor. Cutler (David Fonteno) the leader who reins everyone in as they wait for diva Ma to come wat way late to the recording session she will dominate. For there’s a war going on between management and talent across the racial divide of the times. Because she gets her way in little else, Ma Rainey rules by terror.
But must Barrymore winner E. Faye Butler be so strident? Yes, the voice is powerful but she doesn’t sound a blues singer. Too much bitterness and she screeches.
Twenty-three year old Ro Boddee has pivotal part Ma’s nephew, Sylvester.
The director is Irene Lewis, from Baltimore’s CenterStage.
The music director for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is William McDaniels.
Keeping the upstairs and downstairs on the same flat boards – lacks imagination for
such a powerful work. Ma Rainey runs through June 13 at the Suzanne Roberts.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

May 28, 2010 at 3:14 am

Blue Door

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Blue Door

Kes Khemnu and Johnnie Hobbs, Jr.


Blue Door
by
Tanya Barfield
The Arden
Jan. – March 21

When things fall apart we ask the big questions. Who are we? Where are going? How did we get from here to there. Transitions are the hard parts. In life just like music. Tanya Barfield’s work the Blue Door calls up the ancestors, much the way that an August Wilson play does.

There are only two men on stage at The Arden at all times but spirits abound. Good thing Walter Dallas is directing. The artists on stage are the gifted Johnnie Hobbes, Jr. and extraordinary Kes Khemnu. Hard to believe Hobbes is making his Arden debut. The veteran of so many August Wilson plays, Hobbes here takes the part of Lewis, a math professor at the pinnacle of success. He’s an African- American in an upper crust white college who’s letting his demons suck the life out of his achievements. It’s the eve of the Million Man March. Lewis is not marching. His wife has left him. Alone, plagued by his demons, Lewis spends a sleepless night, wrestling memories.

Simon, his dead brother, challenges him to beat back the demons, bring up the ancestors. The Blue Door is a duel between siblings.
The Blue Doorholds things. Things African- Americans want to say to whites. Whites want to ask of blacks. Feelings of discomfort and dislocation, the self-consciousness of being alone in the midst of others. It says things that are painful, things that are smart, things that are funny, very much to the point of now. Lewis is mordant, a man tied in knots with his inability to enjoy himself; Simon is playful, loose. He has an an earthy physicality that layers back in time. Funny that the ghost is so much more ‘present’ than the earthly man.

Lewis is so in his head, he has blocked the racial pain and injustice his family experienced, misunderstood the pain his father inflicted on him– blinded himself to the triumphs.
Don’t clip your own wings, the ghost brother says in the Blue Door.
Don’t clip your own wings.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 26, 2010 at 3:23 am