TAG, The Actors’ Group, is proud to present August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, running March 6-29th, 2015. This will complete TAG’s goal of presenting all of Wilson’s Century Cycle, a cycle of ten plays portraying African American life in each decade of the twentieth century.
Although TAG’s production marks the completion of The Actors’ Group presentation of the Cycle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is considered the first play in Wilson’s Century Cycle, being first performed at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1984. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place in the South Side of Chicago, at Mel Sturdyvant’s recording studio, 1927.
The play explores racism and the African-American experience within the music industry, and Chicagoan culture, late 1920s. Ma Rainey and her band is in the midst of a recording session, which sets the scene and the tone for this play. To add to the complex nature of relationships, cultural and racism, we see how “Ma’s” white producer and agent impacts the band, making themselves famous off of Rainey’s recordings, to “Ma’s” outspoken displeasure:
“The title comes from the song of the same name, which is at the heart of a major conflict in the play. Of particular note is Wilson’s character, Levee, who literally embodies the aspirations and disappointments of black males during this era and, arguably, today. Wilson pits Levee against Rainey, the band members, and the whites, examining various stripes of inter and interracial conflict” (Bookrags.com)
Playwright August Wilson (1945 – 2005), was born and raised in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where most of his Century Cycle take place, Ma Rainey being the one exception. Born Frederick August Kittel, Wilson dropped out of school at 15, and educated himself in the local libraries, while saturating himself in the multicultural Hill District. After his father died, who was a German immigrant, Wilson took on his mother’s last name in order to strengthen his personal ties with his African-American heritage.
His most ambitious work, without a doubt, is his Century Cycle presenting African American life each decade of the 20th century. The Cycle starts out with Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but Wilson won his first Tony award and a Pulitzer Prize for Fences, 1987, and another Pulitzer for The Piano Lesson in 1990.
Wilson moved to Seattle, Washington in the 1990s, and was later diagnosed with liver cancer in 2005. Lucky for audiences world wide, he was able to complete rewrites of Radio Golf, his last installment of the Century Cycle, which debuted on Broadway in 2007.
Before seeing the show at The Actors’ Group, why not read up on Wilson’s Century Cycle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and August Wilson.