Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★½

An effective, typical state adaptation that centers its power in massive performances and in the playwright’s craftsmanship. Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman, and Michael Potts all do an exemplary job bringing August Wilson’s brilliant script to life — they rattle off his heightened dialogue as casually and naturally as possible, finding a nice balance between stylized theatricality and lifelike emotion. Wilson’s text meditates on Black power within the confines of American capitalism, and finds that while attaining it might be possible in exceptional cases, the oppressive, dehumanizing systemic structure ends up pitting everyone against each other in inescapable cycles of desperation and selfishness. The direction isn’t flashy, which fittingly highlights Wilson’s writing more than anything, but also prevents the project from feeling a little more unique. I really wish this wasn’t Boseman’s final performance because a) he had decades of excellent work left ahead of him, and b) his performance in Da 5 Bloods is a much, much more moving sendoff.

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