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Aug 23rd

Stellar cast delivers Rainey


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ma_raineyIt’s inevitable that “life” happens, but sometimes what’s going on underneath the surface is where our real attention should lie when there’s still a chance to purge our problems. For Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a play written by the late August Wilson, the veil of unconscious hurts becomes as harkening a reality as an overcast sky, especially while trying to exist in the 1920s.

It’s no surprise that Penumbra Theater’s production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is being presented at the Guthrie Theater; bypassing the walls of their cozy St. Paul home altogether. The bravado of this piece sweeps audiences up into the internal prison that is the struggles within these characters. Even in as large a room as the Guthrie boasts, you can still feel the claustrophobia; you're pinned against the corner of your seat— dying inside, as you suffer the struggles of these characters in the plays journey, as told through the brilliant direction of Lou Bellamy, and from the mouths of an extraordinary cast.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is about Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, a blues legend, who takes a trip to Chicago with her band in 1927, to record a hit record with a difficult white producer and Ma’s incompetent white manager. The characters’ struggles for equality and respect are illustrated through spoken memories, deep conversations, and their interactions with a racist world. These hurdles suffer them a fractured identity, but through these visual fragments, you can make out the lucid journey that many of us walk for reverence.

For Ma, the task is to maintain the respect of her manager and producer— a feeling that only lasts until her last note is sung, and is earned only as a result of her fiery attitude and demand of the things she wants. The band struggles in her shadow to gain their individual respect— a feeling that for Levee, is sure to change if he is ever offered a solo opportunity to work with Ma’s producer and manager.

In this production, Bellamy has put together a team of Minnesota’s finest theatrical players to push this production to incredible heights by garnering a feeling of authenticity, and a synergetic vibe unto its ability. Jevetta Steele, plays the role of Ma; Abdul Salaam El Razzac is Toledo; James Craven is Cutler; William John Hall is Slow Drag; and James T. Alfred is Levee.

The interactions between the cast, the incredible direction, and the essence of the era captured within each set, make you wonder if the theater is really a time machine, and the stage, a window into the groups uniquely defined lives.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” runs until March 6 at the Guthrie Theater. For more information call the Guthrie at (612) 377-2224 or Penumbra at (651) 224-3180.
 

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