Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom by James Perry

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom just closed at the August Wilson Center after being extended when we opened February 4th -7th. The experience I had with that show will always be special to me because not only was this my first full length August Wilson show, but this was my first black History show at Capa and my first time working with Pittsburgh Playwrights Director Mark Clayton Southers. Mark told us when we first started working on this project that he was for sure that the actors would do their job and learn their lines, what he was looking for, was for the actors to gain and obtain life experience. Knowing that nobody in the cast was the actual age of their character it seemed as though it would be difficult for us to get into these characters and live in the time period.

            Mark brought in actors like Ezra Smith who had been in August Wilson plays all over the USA to give us a taste of the style that August Wilson uses and the way his words are supposed to make your feel. All the while, he’s telling us to stay true to ourselves as actors but take tips, watch and learn.  During this process I realized that August Wilson has a certain home feeling that invites everyone in on a world they feel like they have been to before. He has a very nostalgic feel and it draws you in with the way his plays are beautifully written.

            For those who don’t know what this play is about ill give a quick overview. The plays starts out with Irvin, Ma’s manager, and Sturdyvant who are waiting on Ma and her band to get there so they can record some more of Ma Rainey’s records. The band is there but Ma Rainey is late because on the way there they get into a car accident that involves the police. When Ma arrives, the police officer follows and Irvin pays him off. Levee, the trumpet player, met Ma Rainey’s love interest in a nightclub the night before and tries to win her over all while not trying to cross Ma. Levee is also trying to get his own band together, hoping that some songs he’s given Mr. Sturdyvant will help boost him up the food chain of entertainment. When he gets turned down, he has only his pride left, so when Toledo, the brains of the show, steps on Levee’s shoes? Levee kills him.

            In this 2 act play you will find a lot of August Wilsons B principle, the Blues, Jorge Luis Borges, Amiri Baraka, Romere Bearden. These, for August Wilson new comers are the 4 things that influenced August Wilson and his style of writing.

I felt glad to be able to say I did this show because we sold out EVERY SHOW at Pittsburgh Capa and came pretty close to selling out the AWC. Mark told the cast he would love if we could tour it, Id love to! I had so much fun with this show I wouldn’t mind being Slow Drag for months…..maybe even years! Not getting my hopes up but still, its nice to dream.

by James Perry