Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Playwright Jordan E. Cooper has no interest in holding back about this issue, matched with Lili-Anne Brown's direction that lays everything out in intense color and high definition. This production, which subsequently will be produced at Baltimore Center Stage, is only the play's second, following its premiere at New York City's Public Theatre; a different production is scheduled to open on Broadway later this year.
The overall vibe of Cooper's writing, matched by Brown's direction, is over-the-top laughs (the sweet coating) with a bitter center. The opening scene, set immediately following Obama's election, is a farcical "funeral" for "Brother Right to Complain." Now that a Black man is president, a minister in a sequin-trimmed suit (Breon Arzell) says Black people won't need to complain about their treatment in the U.S. because the president is one of them. (He uses an earthier term for Obama, and he uses it repeatedly.)
Then the scene shifts (Arnel Sancianco's set pieces seem to be in constant motion) to Gate 1619 of African-American Airlines, where airline employee Peaches (Jon Hudson Odom), in a fluffy wig and semi-tailored kente cloth drag (the jewel of Yvonne Miranda's mind-blowing costumes), welcomes passengers to their flight "home" to Africa. (The less one knows going in about another character, Miss Bag, the better.)
From there, Cooper takes the audience to other places where Black Americans gather: the waiting room of an inner-city clinic where women seeking abortions have to take a number (currently in the 70,000s) and just wait; in the home of a wealthy Black family having to deal with the (actual) ghost in the basement; in a prison as two inmates prepare to face life on the outside; and, most outrageously, a reunion of reality show cast members from "Real Baby Mamas of the South Side."
While Odom is the anchor and core of the play, Arzell and his fellow "Passengers"–Shannon Dorsey, Shannon Matesky, Brandi Porter, and LaNisa Frederick–easily take on one identity after another with a different wig, a change of costume, and a shift in attitude.
Ain't No Mo' runs through October 9, 2022, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-393-3939 or visit www.woollymammoth.net.
By Jordan E. Cooper