|Ma Rainey´s Black Bottom|
hardly a tidy, disciplined writer. MA RAINEY runs nearly three hours and
suffers from repetitive dialogue and a first act that's almost all exposition
and fill, making it little more than a setup for the more compelling second
act. Too bad Wilson didn't conceive of the play as a long one-acter; it
might have come off as a great play as opposed to a merely good one.
Their battles are joined to the conflict Ma has with the white men trying to run her life: her manager Irvin (Alan Nagger) and record-company boss Mel (Joseph Ruskin). Ma boldly stands up to them by defying them bawdily and imperiously. Purdy has instructed Devine to shout and bark most of the time, resulting in a one-note performance that often becomes trying. On the other hand, Devine (formerly in Dreamgirls) sings a couple of Ma's songs in roof-raising fashion.
The play's main battle is between Leevee (Russell Andrews), a trumpet player driven by racist-planted rage, and Toledo (James Avery), a piano player with the wisdom and humanity of a sage--it's blood vs. intellect. Andrews and Avery are both superb, and the rest of the ensemble--Bill Lee Brown, Thomas Maxwell Brimm, Neferteri and All Freeman--contribute strongly too. Kirk Dauer has a brief but effective scene as a policeman.
Joel Daavid's lighting effects and richly textured set--a 1927 Chicago recording studio--and Lisa Tomczezyn's costumes help give this Equity-waiver production a Broadway feel and look.
At the Lillian Theatre, 1076 N. Lillian Way, Hollywood. Call (323) 960-7735 or visit Plays411.com