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Ma Rainey

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By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC | February 7, 2002
To August Wilson, the blues and playwriting are inextricably linked, and the play that best demonstrates that link is Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Wilson's first Broadway play, Ma Rainey (1984) isn't merely about a recording session with the legendary blues singer, it's full of blues-style riffs. Characters break into extended solos, motifs weave in and out, and it all blends into a melody that is variously comic, rueful, exuberant and tragic. Also like the blues, the play needs performers who have the "chops," to borrow a bit of musicians' lingo.
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By Tim Smith, The Baltimore Sun | April 16, 2010
There might come a time when "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," August Wilson's searing look at race and culture in 1920s Chicago, will seem to be a curious relic without contemporary relevance. Don't count on it. Center Stage's trenchant new production of the 1984 play happened to open during a week when fallout was still floating from recent pronouncements by two Southern governors: one in Virginia who didn't mention slavery when proclaiming "Confederate History Month" because he was focusing on the "most significant" issues for his state; and one in Mississippi who said that the resultant controversy surrounding his Virginian colleague was a case of "trying to make a big deal out of something [that]
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By Stephanie Shapiro and Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff | October 16, 1990
WHEN OLUDARA was a young boy in Natchez, Miss., a drifter walked in to his life. His name was Lavender Kinds, and he arrived with a couple of trunks full of books and no clothes. Dara's godparents put Kinds up in a vacant church on a lot they owned. "It turns out he was a published poet, and the man could speak seven or eight languages and he played all instruments," Dara recalls.Supported by the community, Kinds became a mentor to Dara and other neighborhood children, teaching them tap dancing, painting, typing and music.
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By J. WYNN ROUSUCK and J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC | October 13, 2005
A comedian, a female preacher, a blues singer, an ex-slave, two civil rights activists and a battered but unbowed victim of the Ku Klux Klan. The strong portrayals of these diverse women typify the range and power of Arena Players' production of Eve Merriam's And I Ain't Finished Yet. An anthology of seven scenes depicting African-American women beginning in the post-Civil War era, And I Ain't Finished Yet is a little like a vaudeville presentation of...
ENTERTAINMENT
By J. Wynn Rousuck | October 5, 1990
With the noblest intentions, director L. Kenneth Richardson has added an African-style dancer to the cast of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," the season opener at Center Stage.Choreographed by Kathleen Sumler, Kevin Clopton appears in tribal makeup, and, without speaking, interprets various parts of the script in dance.Apparently, Mr. Richardson is attempting to accentuate the mystical African elements that figure prominently in Mr. Wilson's more recent plays, particularly "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "The Piano Lesson."
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By J. Wynn Rousuck | September 23, 1990
Before August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" went into rehearsals at Center Stage, Ebony Jo-Ann, who plays the title role, told the director: "I have always felt that I was put on this earth to play this woman."It's a strong statement, but then, it comes from a strong woman. "My depiction is raw. Sometimes I frighten the other actors," says this strikingly stunning actress, who looks as if she were born with her hands on her hips.Area audiences have seen Ms. Jo-Ann, 45, portray a variety of forceful characters in recent years.
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By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC | November 13, 2002
August Wilson was a largely unknown writer when Ma Rainey's Black Bottom brought him national renown nearly two decades ago. It's taken Arena Stage a while to get around to this seminal work. Now that it has, director Tazewell Thompson has mounted an uneven production that, despite some vibrant moments, doesn't put enough trust in Wilson's words. Although Wilson named his play for Ma Rainey, the Mother of the Blues isn't the main character. She doesn't even show up until the last third of the first act. But her presence permeates the play, in terms of plot as well as themes.
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By J. Wynn Rousuck | September 1, 1991
THREE PLAYS.August Wilson.University of Pittsburgh.318 pages. $24.95.The word "breakfast" got him started.August Wilson has been in love with words ever since he discovered that "breakfast" was two words. "I thought, 'This could go on forever,' " he once explained.Forever is a long time. But Mr. Wilson thinks in broad terms. He is halfway through a cycle of plays chronicling the black experience in 20th century America decade by decade.So far, the plays have fared just fine. The first four to be produced all made it to Broadway and the most recent of those, "The Piano Lesson," won the Pulitzer Prize.
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By Lou Cedrone | September 13, 1990
Live theater will offer some exciting things in the Baltimore-Washington area during the upcoming months. Here are some titles and dates to watch for:* "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," written by August Wilson, author of "The Piano Lesson," is one of a series of plays dramatizing the life of black Americans. It opens Sept. 28 at Center Stage.* "Tru" opens the Morris A. Mechanic season. Robert Morse is the star of this one-man show in which he plays Truman Capote reacting to the reaction of some of the close "friends" he wrote about in less than flattering prose.
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By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic | May 10, 1992
A small, round man with a graying goatee and a whisper-soft voice, Lloyd Richards has been called everything from "the theatrical Duke Ellington" to a "black Santa Claus."He's also been described this way: "He's a big man but he don't act like a big man. . . . He can go anywhere and sit with his back to the door because he knows he ain't done nothing to no one. How many men can sit with their back to the door?"That description comes from a skit presented last year at a benefit honoring Richards' retirement after 12 years in the dual -- roles of dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre.
FEATURES
By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC | November 13, 2002
August Wilson was a largely unknown writer when Ma Rainey's Black Bottom brought him national renown nearly two decades ago. It's taken Arena Stage a while to get around to this seminal work. Now that it has, director Tazewell Thompson has mounted an uneven production that, despite some vibrant moments, doesn't put enough trust in Wilson's words. Although Wilson named his play for Ma Rainey, the Mother of the Blues isn't the main character. She doesn't even show up until the last third of the first act. But her presence permeates the play, in terms of plot as well as themes.
FEATURES
By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC | February 7, 2002
To August Wilson, the blues and playwriting are inextricably linked, and the play that best demonstrates that link is Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Wilson's first Broadway play, Ma Rainey (1984) isn't merely about a recording session with the legendary blues singer, it's full of blues-style riffs. Characters break into extended solos, motifs weave in and out, and it all blends into a melody that is variously comic, rueful, exuberant and tragic. Also like the blues, the play needs performers who have the "chops," to borrow a bit of musicians' lingo.
FEATURES
By Orange County Register | January 12, 1993
LOS ANGELES -- It's almost like a secret club -- a ceremony to which the public hasn't been invited, a fantastic concert only a few select people get to see, and a tribute for a place that doesn't exist.Unlike the Grammys or American Music Awards, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies aren't televised, save for a few tightly controlled snippets on the evening news.The actual hall hasn't been built.The hall's nominating and voting members themselves don't know how they were chosen to be part of one of rock music's greatest honors.
FEATURES
By J. Wynn Rousuck and J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic | May 10, 1992
A small, round man with a graying goatee and a whisper-soft voice, Lloyd Richards has been called everything from "the theatrical Duke Ellington" to a "black Santa Claus."He's also been described this way: "He's a big man but he don't act like a big man. . . . He can go anywhere and sit with his back to the door because he knows he ain't done nothing to no one. How many men can sit with their back to the door?"That description comes from a skit presented last year at a benefit honoring Richards' retirement after 12 years in the dual -- roles of dean of the Yale School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre.
NEWS
By J. Wynn Rousuck | September 1, 1991
THREE PLAYS.August Wilson.University of Pittsburgh.318 pages. $24.95.The word "breakfast" got him started.August Wilson has been in love with words ever since he discovered that "breakfast" was two words. "I thought, 'This could go on forever,' " he once explained.Forever is a long time. But Mr. Wilson thinks in broad terms. He is halfway through a cycle of plays chronicling the black experience in 20th century America decade by decade.So far, the plays have fared just fine. The first four to be produced all made it to Broadway and the most recent of those, "The Piano Lesson," won the Pulitzer Prize.
FEATURES
By Stephanie Shapiro and Stephanie Shapiro,Evening Sun Staff | October 16, 1990
WHEN OLUDARA was a young boy in Natchez, Miss., a drifter walked in to his life. His name was Lavender Kinds, and he arrived with a couple of trunks full of books and no clothes. Dara's godparents put Kinds up in a vacant church on a lot they owned. "It turns out he was a published poet, and the man could speak seven or eight languages and he played all instruments," Dara recalls.Supported by the community, Kinds became a mentor to Dara and other neighborhood children, teaching them tap dancing, painting, typing and music.
FEATURES
By Orange County Register | January 12, 1993
LOS ANGELES -- It's almost like a secret club -- a ceremony to which the public hasn't been invited, a fantastic concert only a few select people get to see, and a tribute for a place that doesn't exist.Unlike the Grammys or American Music Awards, the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies aren't televised, save for a few tightly controlled snippets on the evening news.The actual hall hasn't been built.The hall's nominating and voting members themselves don't know how they were chosen to be part of one of rock music's greatest honors.
FEATURES
By J. WYNN ROUSUCK and J. WYNN ROUSUCK,SUN THEATER CRITIC | October 13, 2005
A comedian, a female preacher, a blues singer, an ex-slave, two civil rights activists and a battered but unbowed victim of the Ku Klux Klan. The strong portrayals of these diverse women typify the range and power of Arena Players' production of Eve Merriam's And I Ain't Finished Yet. An anthology of seven scenes depicting African-American women beginning in the post-Civil War era, And I Ain't Finished Yet is a little like a vaudeville presentation of...
ENTERTAINMENT
By J. Wynn Rousuck | October 5, 1990
With the noblest intentions, director L. Kenneth Richardson has added an African-style dancer to the cast of August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," the season opener at Center Stage.Choreographed by Kathleen Sumler, Kevin Clopton appears in tribal makeup, and, without speaking, interprets various parts of the script in dance.Apparently, Mr. Richardson is attempting to accentuate the mystical African elements that figure prominently in Mr. Wilson's more recent plays, particularly "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" and "The Piano Lesson."
FEATURES
By Winifred Walsh and Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff | October 4, 1990
TWO OPPOSING generations of black musicians struggling to make it in a white racist society and the trashing of one man's personal dignity form the crux of "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom," playwright August Wilson's first of five works chronicling the wretchedness and rich humor of the black experience in America.A well-staged but slow-paced version of the play opened last night in the downstairs theater at Center Stage, newly named The Pearlstone Theater."Ma Rainey" debuted on Broadway in 1984 and was awarded the New York Critics' Circle Award.
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