Review of Ain't No Mo' at the Public Theater
We live in a racist country in case you had not noticed. And, perhaps more importantly, we live in a segregated city. For all the hue and cry about New York being a melting pot, the races here are tucked into their communities like kids in a nursery. If you don't believe me go to any restaurant below 115th street and count the people of color. If restaurants are not your thing, try the theatre. Except when the writer is Jordan E. Cooper and the play is Ain't No Mo' now at the Public Theater. The audience is integrated, with an emphasis on the black side. The play plus the demographics conspire to make a person aware of exactly where they fall on the color spectrum - and this is the first of many good reasons why you want to get your butt over to Lafayette Street now.
The loose - very loose - premise of the tale is that black people - more specifically "blackness" is "leaving the country that originally imported it as cargo." This is more than a story about specific characters. It is a story of a diaspora withdrawing itself from a stage on which it never intended to be.
Cooper has set up eight scenes that flash back and forth in time. The speed with which these scenes are delivered is dizzying - this is the point. Do not try and hold on. Do not try and make sense. There is none to be had. We are catapulted into the opening welcome that cuts off Oskar Eustis mid-sentence and lets us bitches know that we need to sit up straight, pay attention, speak when spoken to and fasten our seatbelts. This is the voice of Peaches (Jordan E. Cooper) who we will meet in the flesh soon enough.
November 4, 2008 is our first stop. Obama has been elected and as a result we must grieve the passing of Brother 'Righttocomplain'- who no longer has a raison d'être. Obama is the man, and he is ours with a capital "N". Pastor Freeman (Marchant Davis) calls us to worship and to testify. But Cooper lays out an unconventional rationale that makes the entire audience wince until the Pastor achieves lift-off and we all sail over the cliff.
Soon we meet Peaches, somewhere beyond now, who is not only the flight attendant for the Last Flight but is the chorus who will guide her charges onto the damn plane and through this bumpy journey. Peaches has her own folks she is fiercely coaxing to the airport because if they stay behind they will be sharing the street with rats.
Strange thing - not everyone knows about this last flight (surprise) or trusts it even if they do know. Why trust the hand that has held you down all your life?
Shift to the present at the Sister Girl We Slay All Day Cause Beyoncé Say Community Center where over 70,000 black women have been waiting 40 days and nights for an abortion. Better that than handing their child a ticking clock to measure its days on earth.
Real Baby Mama's Of The South-Side reminded me why I don't watch "reality TV". Not only is it not real - it is seriously bad writing. The one tweak here is that one of the women started out life not only as a man, but a white one at that and who believes that race is not a fact, it is a category. Okay then.
We breeze through a rich ass home where slavery shows up (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and wipes the floor with the isolated and uppity, until they do the same to her.
The penultimate scene is simple and devastating as three inmates are released from one jail out into the world that only wants one thing - to get rid of them. Prison vs. the smell of the earth and probably death. Some choice.
Peaches punctuates the evening with in-your-face declarations, admonitions and predictions. She is practical with her advice and instructions. If you do not listen, if you do not follow, your comeuppance will be swift and on you. When push comes to shove, however, and the walls begin to crack we see that Peaches' veneer has been worn thin, and her magic powers are no more than anyone else's. When she strips herself bare, we see she is us. That is, if we see at all.
(Photo by Joan Marcus)
WHAT THE OTHER CRITICS SAID
"The lights are down barely three seconds before mayhem breaks loose at the Public Theater's production of Ain't No Mo'. That's when the regular recorded welcome from Oskar Eustis, the Public's artistic director, gets rudely and hilariously hijacked by Peaches, an airport gate attendant making a preboarding announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen" — and that's as much as I can quote, because Peaches, who is also the play's author, Jordan E. Cooper, has quite the vocabulary. But the gist is this: Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night. Yes, Ain't No Mo', which opened on Wednesday, is bumpy. It's also thrilling, bewildering, campy, shrewd, mortifying, scary, devastating and deep."
Jesse Green for New York Times
"It's the most ominous airplane since Rod Serling put his teleplay "How to Serve Man" on "The Twilight Zone" in 1962. The airplane in question is the amazing work of set designer Kimie Nishikawa and it's the centerpiece of Jordan E. Cooper's equally amazing new play, Ain't No Mo', which opened Wednesday at the Public Theater. Okay, the airplane in "How to Serve Man" is really a spaceship, but then Ain't No Mo' takes us on a far more disturbing trip."
Robert Hofler for The Wrap
"There's no denying that this new playwright has lots of important things to say and a fresh, original way of saying them. Stevie Walker-Webb's energetic staging adds to the excitement, as do the absolutely terrific performances of the ensemble (Marchant Davis, Fedna Jacquet, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Simone Recasner) who handle their multiple roles with stupendous verve and inventiveness. Kudos as well to Cookie Jordan's hair, wig and makeup design. And Cooper proves himself as impressive a performer as a writer, garnering huge laughs via the exuberantly flamboyant Peaches. Watching him strut his stuff, the only fitting response is, "Yes, bitch!""
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
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