This is the only one of the ten plays in Wilson's "Pittsburgh cycle" depicting African-American lives across the twentieth century that is not, in fact, set in Pittsburgh. The locale is Sturdyvant's shabby recording studio in Chicago in the mid's, where the impatient record distributor is waiting for the idolized blues singer Gerturde "Ma" Rainey to show up with her band for a session. Rainey's manager Irvin, a white man, reassures Sturdyvant but frets, worries and jumps about. Soon enough, we'll understand why.
Rep returns to August Wilson with 'Ma Rainey'
Digication ePortfolio :: DRAM Portfolio, Tony Wang :: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
The African Stew Speech by Toledo was clever, cynical, yet powerful to the audience. It impacts the play in several ways. The piece sets the theme of the play by directly addressing the problem, and also helps the audience understand Toledo as a character. This image resonated with the collapse of the institution of slavery and the declining southern cotton industry — the black slaves or later the black tenant farmers were not valuable anymore to the white plantation owners. The contrasting imageries pop up: the ignorant black man not knowing his identity and the dishonest and pretentious white man who enjoyed the labor of the black man but now wishes to be left alone. Toledo, the older and more knowledgeable character in the play, tries to inform his black colleagues as well as the audience of the dire situation of the African Americans— to persuade them of his uninviting yet genuine point.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom review – August Wilson's blues still electrify
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Though it may have Ma Rainey's name in the title, this is truly an ensemble piece, with pitch-perfect to-and-fro dialogue between headstrong Ma and her sycophantic white manager Irvin, between Irvin and irate producer Sturdyvant, between swaggering horn-player Levee and sanctimonious piano-player Toledo. We're in a claustrophobic studio in s Chicago and tensions are rife. Ma 'Mother of the Blues' Rainey is battling with Irvin and Sturdyvant over everything from a bottle of Coke to the music they are there to record. Sharon D Clarke's titular performance is less diva-ish histrionics, more powerful restraint: a regular bass line with occasional fortissimo, over which Irvin's attempts at mediation and Sturdyvant's bursts of frustration are a high-pitched, strangulated melody.