Best Stage Production

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

The Black Rep has already worked its way through August Wilson's ten-play "Century Cycle" once. Now the fearless theater company has passed GO, collected $200 and is prepared to start again. The $64,000 question (take a deep breath): Are theatergoers ready for another mind-blowing journey through the 20th century with the vaulting (yet often verbose) Wilson? If May's staging of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is an indicator, the answer is an emphatic yes. The fact that the production was staged in May is significant, because already memory tells us that Ma Rainey was produced in the bitter cold. A brisk Chicago wind blew across the Grandel Theatre's stage and straight into the auditorium. The flinty production, which pitted optimism against fatalism, eloquently exposed the underbelly of 1920s jazz musicians. Gorgeously acted and modulated, this was an evening to cherish. In January 2013 the Black Rep will continue the cycle with Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1930s-era The Piano Lesson. Bring it on.

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