'Ain't No Mo' review — talented ensemble takes flight in this sharp Broadway comedy
Ain't No Mo', a badass sketch comedy about the Black experience in America and a mythical airline flight in response to it, is a theatrical excursion you don’t want to miss. This play is fanged, ferocious, and funny as all get out.
Written by and featuring Jordan E. Cooper, who at age 27 is the youngest Black American playwright in Broadway history, the show ran at The Public Theater in 2019. Like George C. Wolfe’s play The Colored Museum as well as TV’s In Living Color, the show knows the power of pointed comedy to shake things up.
Ain't No Mo' is built as a series of vignettes targeting diverse issues, each with varying success at hitting a bullseye. A few skits could use pruning. Expletives fly like nobody’s business – 49 F-bombs and 58 N-words, per a scan of the script. That makes sense for a comedy with no interest in being polite.
The only thing that’s really shocking in this play, directed with go-for-it zest by Stevie Walker-Webb, is the cast’s bow. That’s when it hits you that just six actors played 26 characters. The ensemble – Cooper, Marchant Davis, Fedna Jacquet, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, and Shannon Matesky – is a jumbo jet of talent.
The play begins at a funeral on November 4, 2008. Pastor Freeman notes that the late Brother Righttocomplain, a devoted member of the African American community, will miss out on the new world awaiting Blacks with the election of Barack Obama as president. “Ain't no mo’ discrimination,” the preacher says. Yeah, as if. News reports of violence against Black people eventually drown him out.
The show shifts to airport gate 1619, wittily conjured by set designer Scott Pask. Flight agent Peaches, a loud and proud drag queen, explains that African American Airlines is preparing to board all Black U.S. residents for its final one-way free trip to Africa.
“The powers that be have reassured me there’s room for everyone,” says Peaches. The entire story of African Americans in the U.S. will be contained in a magical carry-on, Miss Bag. That includes everything from monumental memories of Rosa Parks to, says Peaches, “Oprah’s wagon of fat.” The play returns to this gate a few times.
Cooper isn’t shy about getting serious. At a clinic, a woman awaits her turn for an abortion. As she talks with her boyfriend, another woman eavesdrops. Like a plot twist out of Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved, both women choose to end their pregnancies to prevent their kids’ inevitable future traumas. A later vignette at a women’s prison leads to a powerful conclusion.
In an incisive parody, wealthy African Americans with no intention of boarding the flight to Africa are forced to reckon with their Blackness. Turns out it’s been chained and buried for years in the basement of their mansion.
The best and most outlandish skit takes aim at the phoniness of reality TV with the taping of a reunion episode of The Real Baby Mamas of the South Side. There are over-the-top outfits (costume designer Emilio Sosa goes for broke) and rotten behavior this brand has cultivated. In a provocative twist, the new cast member is transracial. The other Baby Mamas have a lot to say about that – and I won’t spoil a word of it.
In the end, Ain't No Mo' makes its way back to African American Airlines, where Peaches tries to load that precious satchel containing Black history. But there’s something amiss. Who’s left holding Miss Bag makes for a stunning conclusion.
Photo credit: Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, Marchant Davis, Crystal Lucas-Perry, and Ebony Marshall-Oliver in Ain't No Mo'. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
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