Black Bottom Rises

The house lights dimmed amid quietness in the Floyd L. Sandle Theatre at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14. The theater department presented Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which was written by August Wilson and directed by Dr. King Godwin. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, with minor flaws and few technical glitches, was a play that taught about the struggles of black people. It inspired attendees to strive for personal goals and kept them erupting with laughter.

Set in a sound recording studio, the play told of the hardships of black men in the music industry.

It featured Sean Alexander Turner as Sturdyvant, Princeton McCurtain as Irvin, Jordan Gaither as Cutler, Cedric D. Clarke II as Toledo.

Also joining the cast was Deron James as Slow Drag, Jonathan D. Jackson as Levee, Tiana Shuntae Alexander as Ma Rainey, Jobias H. McLester as policeman, Jonte Smith as Dussie Mae and Dale Nelson as Sylvester.

At first glance, Ma Rainey appeared pompous and difficult, but it was later understood that her attitude resulted from a lack of respect from music representatives, including her manager, Irvin.

According to Ma Rainey, all they wanted was her voice. At that point the audience began to understand Rainey’s spoiled mentality.

The lead character, Levee, was more concerned with personal ambitions than giving attention to Ma Rainey’s band. This caused a rift between Levee and other band members, but tension escalated when Levee rearranged the hit song “Black Bottom.”

Serious issues brewed between Levee and Toledo, whose racial viewpoints annoyed the band. Toledo’s rationale upset Levee, who had problems with the “white man.”

The “white man” physically abused him and his mother, which he expressed in a well-delivered soliloquy. Although he survived, Levee never forgot the attack and hatred for the “white man” remained in his heart. The audience sympathized with him, but his pompous ways also called for ridicule.
In the final moments of the play, Levee overreacted about Toledo accidentally stepping on his shoe. Toledo was stabbed and died shortly after. Viewers were drawn in by Levee’s apology. The powerful acting left the audience thinking of sympathy and justice.

The characters performed satisfactorily, but some exhibited a high standard of professionalism. Unfortunately, there were some cast members who, at times, failed to deliver their lines with believability.

The characters played by Sean Alexander Turner and Jordan Gaither occasionally spoke too fast, and in a monotone pitch, which caused some lines to lose effectiveness. In some cases, it was difficult to understand the lines as they failed to project and enunciate.

The costume designer should be given props. The color schemes and the full three-piece suits were appealing. Everyone appeared comfortably outfitted.
Dessimae’s outfit and wig were well chosen. The audience responded when she showed her legs seductively.

The set was outstanding. Every prop onstage was utilized, even the makeshift heating system. The set did not overpower the message but complemented it.

The Plexiglas door, however, sometimes created a distracting glare.
Jonathan Jackson played Levee well. It appeared that the role was written for Jackson. His anger and frustration with his oppressor was expressed powerfully.

Jackson stood out the most, especially his line delivery. He spoke with clarity.
Slowdrag delivered sarcastic lines and caused continuous laughter.

Dale Nelson who played Sylvester, Ma Rainey’s nephew, had a speech impediment. His portrayal caused many to believe that his natural manner of speaking was stuttering.

The play was a success. I can only hope that future attendance improves.