Theatre Review by Howard Miller - December 3, 2022
Ain't No Mo' by Jordan E. Cooper. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb. Scenic design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Emilio Sosa. Lighting design by Adam Honoré. Sound design by Jonathan Deans and Taylor Williams. Wig design by Mia M. Neal. Fight and intimacy director Rocio Mendez.
By any measure, Ain't No Mo' is an audacious, no-holds-barred satirical stabbing jolt about race and race relations in America. It's also loud and unrelentingly manic in its pacing and delivery, with only an occasional pause to catch its breath as it weaves together a series of scenes that feed into its bold premise: in light of the seeming impossibility of racial harmony after 400 years of trying, not-even trying, and out-and-out resisting, it is time to pull the plug. Every Black American has been given the offer of boarding a flight that will take them to Africa, where they can resettle and start anew, a symbolic reversal of the horrific Middle Passage. Black America, Flight 1619 awaits you!
The play opens on a cacophony of sorrow, as a quartet of weeping women, all dressed in mourning white, slowly wend their way from the back of the theater to the stage, where a white coffin sits front and center. It is a funeral in a Black church, where Pastor Freeman leads us all in a fiercely insistent call-and-response service as we share in the universal grief over the death of Brother Righttocomplain. That's because on this date, November 4, 2008, America has elected Barack Obama as its first Black president, and Black Americans no longer have the right to complain about their history. "Ain't no mo' bluish red light in the rearview mirror. Ain't no mo' getting followed around by the tall white lady in the K-Mart on Jones Street," Pastor Freeman admonishes all of us gathered mourners, reciting a litany of suddenly vanished grievances and working us up into a frenzy over the dawning of a new age.
Scenes with Peaches alternate with a series of skits depicting Black Americans in a variety of settings. Their stories leap between the satirically comic (the set of a "Housewives of" type TV show; the home of a wealthy Black family that is resisting leaving the country) and the satirical yet emotionally moving (an abortion clinic; a prison). Anguish and hope are dispersed in equal measure. And Cooper is nothing if not an equal opportunity satirist, with both races getting their share of pointed digs throughout the 100-minute play that is in perpetual motion under director Stevie Walker-Webb's breakneck pacing.
The cast members, all but one of whom was with the show when it first appeared at the Public Theater in 2019, is altogether remarkable, so much so that you are likely to be surprised at curtain call to see there are only six of them. Pastor Freeman and every other male character is played by Marchánt Davis, while all of the women (save Peaches) are played by Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, and Crystal Lucas-Perry (an absolute firebrand). Thanks to Emilio Sosa's amazingly versatile costumes and Mia M. Neal's hair and wig design, the actors become quick-change artists of the highest order.
Writer George S. Kaufman famously said that "satire is what closes on Saturday night," but Ain't No Mo' is poised to be the exception. Jordan E. Cooper brings a powerful and original voice to the table, and this particular satire rightfully belongs on Broadway, where, one hopes, it will be seen and heard by Black and white audiences for an extended and successful run.