Showing posts with label Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Show all posts

Friday, February 1, 2019

OPENING: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM at Writers Theatre February 6 – March 17, 2019

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

Writers Theatre continues 2018/19 Season with 
Written by August Wilson, Directed by Ron OJ Parson

Featuring David Alan Anderson, Thomas J. Cox, Felicia P. Fields, Jalen Gilbert, Tiffany Renee Johnson, Blake Montgomery, Peter Moore, Kelvin Roston, Jr., A.C. Smith, and Alfred H. Wilson 

February 6 – March 17, 2019

February 13th I'll be ChiILin' with Chi, IL's Writers Theatre for the press opening of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. In Chicago, director Ron OJ Parson's name has become inextricably linked with playwright, August Wilson. I've seen him direct numerous Wilson productions over the years, so it's only fitting that he direct the only play of Wilson's American Century Cycle that is set in Chicago.

 Set in the 1920s, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom chronicles the twentieth century African American experience and deals with issues of race, art, religion and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is the only play in August Wilson’s ten-play American Century Cycle that is set in Chicago. 

Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, continues its 2018/19 season with August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, directed by Writers Theatre Resident Director Ron OJ Parson. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom runs February 6 – March 17, 2019 in the Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe. 

Director Ron OJ Parson returns to Writers where he previously directed East Texas Hot Links, The Caretaker, The Old Settler, and The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights for Writers Theatre.
Ma Rainey is considered the Mother of the Blues and essentially launched Paramount records, recording almost 100 records from 1923-1928.

This visceral American classic serves as the 1920s chapter of August Wilson's epic American Century Cycle. What begins as a routine recording session becomes more strained as tensions rise between the members of a blues band and the owners of the recording studio. The white producers mean to exploit the talents of the band—especially the gifted and impulsive Levee—but when Ma insists on having things her way, tensions are enflamed and the play builds to an unexpected and searing climax. 

Inspired by the real-life Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, this groundbreaking work is the only play by American icon August Wilson to be set in Chicago. Directed by Writers Theatre Resident Director Ron OJ Parson (East Texas Hot Links, The Caretaker, The Old Settler), Ma Rainey will envelop you in a vision of the Roaring Twenties defined by Wilson’s remarkably beautiful language and an extraordinary dramatic conflict between ambition, desperation and love for The Blues. 

The real life Gertrude “Ma” Rainey on whom August Wilson based his character was very open about her sexuality despite the law, as was somewhat common for blues mavens of the time. Songs such as “Prove It On Me” detail going out on the town with various women, and the cover of the album shows her hitting on two young women while a policeman looks on.  

“Ron OJ Parson’s productions of plays by August Wilson have been some of the theatre-going highlights of my life,” said Artistic Director Michael Halberstam. “When the opportunity to present this play at Writers Theatre came about, I leapt at the chance.  Ron has assembled a brilliant cast, all of whom are passionate about exploring this magnificent and towering piece of writing as staged by arguably the nation’s foremost interpreter of Mr. Wilson’s work.  As Ron has proved time and time again, he has an unwavering ability to direct his productions straight into the audience’s hearts, minds and souls. Writers Theatre audiences have been fortunate to experience the full extent of his gifts with stagings like Harold Pinter's The Caretaker and Eugene Lee's East Texas Hot Links.  Taking full advantage of the Nichols Theatre’s ability to encompass both epic and intimate canvases simultaneously, Ron’s design team draws us dramatically into a 1920’s impromptu recording studio where the explosive events of the play will reach their searing climax. Although there are a hundred years between the imagined events of Wilson’s play and the present day, the themes and circumstances feel terrifyingly familiar."

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom first opened at the Yale Repertory Theater in April 1984, and then moved to Broadway's Cort Theatre. The original cast included Charles S. Dutton as Levee, Joe Seneca as Cutler, Leonard Jackson as Slow Drag, Robert Judd as Toledo, and Theresa Merritt as Ma. Dutton and Merritt were nominated for Tony Awards for their performances.

The cast includes: David Alan Anderson (Toledo), Thomas J. Cox (Sturdyvant), Felicia P. Fields (Ma Rainey), Jalen Gilbert (Sylvester), Tiffany Renee Johnson (Dussie Mae), Blake Montgomery (Policeman), Peter Moore (Irvin), Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Levee), A.C. Smith (Slow Drag), and Alfred H. Wilson (Cutler).

The creative team includes: Todd Rosenthal (scenic), Myrna Colley-Lee (costumes), Jared Gooding (lighting), Ray Nardelli (sound), Regina Victor (dramaturg), Joe Faust (fight director), and Sasha Smith (intimacy director). The production stage manager is Rebecca Pechter.

Tickets are priced $35 - $80. Subscriptions and individual tickets may be purchased online at, by phone at 847-242-6000 or in person at the box office at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe.


August Wilson (Playwright) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of the descendants of Africans in North America, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century, forming the complication entitled THE AMERICAN CENTURY CYCLE. His plays have been produced on Broadway, at regional theaters across the country and all over the world. In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Mr. Wilson’s works garnered many awards including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987); and for The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Jitney. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Mr. Wilson’s early works included the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming, and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, 2003 Heinz Award, was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by President Bill Clinton, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street—The August Wilson Theatre. New York Public Radio recorded all ten plays in the THE AMERICAN CENTURY CYCLE at the Greene Space, casting many of the actors that worked on the original productions. PBS aired a documentary on Mr. Wilson entitled, The Ground On Which I Stand, as part of the American Masters series. Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received the 1985 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best American Play and was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play and the Tony Award for Best Play.

Ron OJ Parson (Director) previously directed East Texas Hot Links, The Caretaker, and The Old Settler for Writers Theatre. Mr. Parson hails from Buffalo, New York and is a graduate of the professional theatre program of the University of Michigan. He is the former co-founder and artistic director of Chicago's Onyx Theatre Ensemble and is currently a resident artist at Chicago's Court Theatre. Ron has worked as both an actor and a director at various theatres in Chicago and regionally. Ron also directed the world premiere of Palmer Park at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, Canada.

David Alan Anderson (Toledo) previously appeared at Writers Theatre in Witch. Other Chicago credits include Gem of the Ocean (BTAA winner) and The Mountaintop (Jeff Nominee), both with Court Theatre. David is a recipient of the Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship sponsored by the Ten Chimneys Foundation. He has over twenty-five seasons with The Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis, where his many credits include Looking Over the President’s Shoulder, What I Learned in Paris, Julius Caesar, The Whipping Man, Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol and many others. Recent works include Troy in Fences (Indiana Rep, Denver Center, Arizona Theatre Company and Milwaukee Rep), Morning After Grace (Asolo Rep), Radio Golf (Cleveland Playhouse) and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (Indiana Rep and Syracuse Stage). Other regional credits include The Guthrie, Baltimore Center Stage, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, KC Rep, Geva Theatre and many others. Directing credits include MVP, The Color of Justice (Indiana Rep), Topdog/Underdog and Two Trains Running (Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis). He is a company member with Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, MN. Recent television works include Showtime’s new hit series The Chi. 

Thomas J. Cox (Sturdyvant) is making his Writers Theatre debut. As an ensemble member with Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, he has appeared in many productions since 1988, most recently in 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, as well as The Jungle, The Odyssey, West, Arabian Nights, The Great Fire, Nelson Algren: For Keeps, Single Day (Joseph Jefferson Nomination, Solo Performance), Old Curiosity Shop (Joseph Jefferson Nomination, Supporting Actor), Winston Smith in 1984 and Hook in Peter Pan (a play), among many others. He has appeared regionally at the Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, The House Theatre of Chicago, The Gift Theatre and Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. Thom also worked for ten years at the Weston Playhouse Theatre in Vermont, performing in productions ranging from Tartuffe to Urinetown, and directing Weston’s Young Company. Film/TV: Chicago Fire (NBC), Brotherhood (Showtime) and Since You’ve Been Gone (Miramax).

Felicia P. Fields (Ma Rainey) returns to Chicago having recently starred in Low Down Dirty Blues (Lone Tree Arts Center) in Colorado. Other theatre credits include productions at The Marriott Theatre, Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace, Theatre at the Center, Northlight Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, The Broadway Playhouse and the Goodman Theatre. Ms. Fields earned a Tony Award nomination for her portrayal of Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway and a 2006 Theatre World Award, two awards, an NAACP nomination and the award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in Sophisticated Ladies. Television/film credits include Slice with Chance the Rapper, Save the Last Dance, Who Gets the Dog, Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, Bad Judge (NBC), Sense 8 (Netflix), Early Edition (CBS), The Knights of Prosperity (ABC) and many commercials/voice-overs to date. She is the recipient of a Clarence Dewitt Award, many Joseph Jefferson nominations and won the Jeff award for her performances in Sophisticated Ladies.

Jalen Gilbert (Sylvester) previously appeared at Writers Theatre in East Texas Hot Links. He will appear as Bowzie in Too Heavy for Your Pocket (TimeLine Theatre). Recent credits include Tru in Hooded (First Floor Theater), John in Mies Julie (Victory Gardens Theater) and Dontrell in Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (First Floor Theater). Television and Film credits include Chicago Med (NBC), As with Knives and Skin, The Exorcist (Fox) and Solo. Jalen is a proud graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University BFA Acting program. 

Tiffany Renee Johnson (Dussie Mae) is a Chicago native with a BFA from Howard University, and is represented by Gray Talent Group. Her theatre credits include: Flyin’ West (American Blues Theater), Red Velvet (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), Saint Joan (Poetic Forum Collective), the US premiere of truth and reconciliation (Sideshow Theatre Company), the world premiere of VANYA (or, “That’s Life!”) (Rasaka Theatre Company), Coming Home (Erasing the Distance), Hairspray (Drury Lane Theatre) and The Nativity (Congo Square Theatre). Regional credits include Race (Next Act Theatre) and The Bluest Eye (Environmental Theatre Space). Television credits include: Chicago Med, Chicago P.D., Chicago Fire (NBC), APB (Fox) and Embeds (Go90). 

Blake Montgomery (Policeman) has previously appeared in What The Butler Saw (Court Theatre), Animal Farm (Steppenwolf Theatre Company), The Life of Galileo (Remy Bumppo), The Crownless King, The Nutcracker (The House Theatre of Chicago) and Seagull, Nina, and Salao (Redmoon Theater). Most recently, he's worked as an understudy at both Chicago Shakespeare and Northlight Theatre. From 2005 to 2013, Blake ran The Building Stage, where he created over a dozen original theatrical pieces, including the Joseph Jefferson Award-winning Moby-Dick and his solo performance in Charles Dickens Begrudgingly Performs ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Again.

Peter Moore (Irvin) is a founding member and the Artistic Director of Steep Theatre in Chicago, where his credits include Linda, Birdland, Hinter, Earthquakes in London, Wastwater, The Few, The Cheats, Brilliant Adventures, The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle, If There is I Haven’t Found it Yet, Love and Money, Festen, A Brief History of Helen of Troy and Harper Regan, among many others over the last 17 years. Other theatre credits include Steppenwolf’s 2017 production of The Crucible, Route 66 Theatre’s The Downpour and Jackalope Theatre’s In the Canyon. TV & Film credits include Chicago Fire, Chicago Justice (NBC), the pilot Convergence and the Bollywood hit Dhoom 3. Pete is a graduate of Bowdoin College and The School at Steppenwolf.

Kelvin Roston, Jr. (Levee) has previously appeared at Writers Theatre in East Texas Hot Links and The Old Settler. Other Chicagoland theater credits include work with Congo Square, Court Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Marriott Theatre, Goodman Theatre, ITC, eta Creative Arts, Black Ensemble Theatre, TimeLine Theatre, Northlight Theatre and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Regional theatres: The Black Rep, The Fulton Theatre, New Theatre Restaurant, MSMT and Baltimore Center Stage. International: Tokyu Theatre Orb and The Royal Festival Hall. Television: Chicago Med, Chicago PD (NBC), KFC and Instant Care commercials. Film: Get a Job, Princess Cyd and Breathing Room. He is a four-time Jeff Award nominee, three-time BTA Award winner and two-time Black Excellence Award winner. He is the winner of the Light in the Darkness Public Education Award from NAMI for his play, Twisted Melodies, written and performed by himself. Kelvin is an Artistic Associate of Congo Square.

A.C. Smith (Slow Drag) has previously appeared at Writers Theatre in A Moon for the Misbegotten and East Texas Hot Links. In Chicago, Smith considers the Court Theatre to be his home where he has worked for the past eight years or so in productions ranging from Moliere to the great August Wilson and a host of other classic works. Smith received the Joseph Jefferson Award for his portrayal of Troy Maxson in Court Theatre’s production of Fences. Regional credits include Clarence Brown Theatre (Knoxville, TN), Portland Stage Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Geva Theatre Center, Peninsula Players Theatre and The Black Rep, where he has been a company member for 21 years and is a nine-time Woodie King, Jr. Award winner. National tour credits include The Piano Lesson directed by Lloyd Richards. Off-Broadway credits include the title role in Jelly Belly (Audelco Award Nomination—New Federal Theatre). Smith has appeared on film, television, radio, voice-over, commercials and in Ebony and Jet magazines.

Alfred H. Wilson (Cutler) has previously appeared at Writers Theatre in East Texas Hot Links. Recent credits include: Old Joe in Radio Gold, Chorus in Agamemnon, Solly Two Kings in Gem of the Ocean, Estrogon in Waiting for Godot, Fielding in Jitney, Wining Boy in Piano Lesson (Court Theatre), Oldest Old Man in Father Comes Home From The Wars, Pullman Porter Blues (Goodman Theatre), Bono in Fences (Kansas City Rep, Nevada Conservatory), Simon in The Whipping Man (Cardinal Stage), Becker in Jitney (West Coast Black Theatre), Toledo in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (University of Wisconsin, Madison), Delbert Tibbs in The Exonerated (The Next Act Theatre), Toledo in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Rep), Travis in The Etiquette of Vigilance (Steppenwolf Theatre), Holloway in Two Trains Running (Geva Theatre Center), Sam in Master Harold and the Boys (Timeline Theatre), Solly Two Kings in Gem of the Ocean, Old Joe in Radio Golf (Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati), and Old Joe in Radio Gold (Pittsburgh Public Theatre). Chicago credits include:  Charlie in Bourbon at the Border (Eclipse Theatre), Becker in Jitney, Memphis Lee in Two Trains Running (Joseph Jefferson Award—Best Actor, Pegasus Players), and Charles in Panther Burn (MMPAACT). He was also a co-founder of Onyx Theatre Ensemble. He has also worked at Victory Gardens Theater.

From Page to Stage:

Sunday, February 10 at 2pm
Hosted by Glenview Public Library  |  1930 Glenview Rd., Glenview

In August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a tight-knit blues band strives to maintain their artistic integrity against the forces of exploitation and ambition in a 1920s Chicago recording studio. Join us to learn more about the deep roots of the Blues with dynamic award-winning storyteller and musician Fruteland Jackson, who will share the history of blues music through song, lecture, and discussion from its origins to its current popularity. Seating is limited. RSVP at

Sunday Spotlight
Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 11:30am

Are you curious about the world that surrounds your favorite plays? Sunday Spotlight offers access to the finest speakers, scholars and cultural leaders. This one-hour event extends the conversation on our stages by featuring an expert in an area connected to the play. Seating is limited. RSVP is required. Save the date.

The Making of... Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Monday, March 11, 2019 at 6:30pm

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes of our productions? For each production, we will offer insight into a different aspect of creating theatre. Seating is limited. RSVP is required. Save the date!

Post-Show Conversation: The Word

Join us after every Tuesday evening performance (excluding First Week and any extension weeks) for a 15-minute discussion of the play, facilitated by a member of the WT Artistic Team.

Post-Show Conversation: The Artist
Join us after every Wednesday evening performance (excluding First Week and any extension weeks) for a 15-minute talk-back featuring actors from the production, facilitated by a member of the WT Artistic Team.

Pre-Show Conversation: Up Close
Join us at 6:45pm in the Atrium before every Thursday evening performance (excluding First Week and any extension weeks) for a 15-minute primer on the context and content of the play, facilitated by a member of the WT Artistic Team.


In an effort to promote taking public transit to the Theatre, Writers Theatre launched a new promotion in 2013. Any audience member who purchases a ticket to a Writers Theatre production and rides Metra’s Union Pacific North Line to the Theatre may snap a photo of themselves on the train and post it to their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account with a tag of @WritersTheatre (@Writers_Theatre on Instagram) and #MaRaineyWT, and upon showing the post at the Writers Theatre Box Office, receive $5 in cash to put toward the cost of your fare as a thank you for going green.

This promotion is available for a limited time only and may end without warning. Ticket must have been paid for in advance. Not valid on comp tickets. More information available at

Writers Theatre is pleased to recognize BMO Harris Bank as the 2018/19 Season Sponsor and ComEd as the Official Lighting Sponsor of the 2018/19 Season. The Student Matinee Sponsor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is Allstate. The Major Production Sponsors are Gail and Tom Hodges, and the Artists Council Sponsors are Laurie and Michael Petersen. Additional support for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is provided by the Director’s Society Sponsors.

For more information about Writers Theatre’s 2018/19 partners, visit

For more than 25 years, Writers Theatre has captivated Chicagoland audiences with inventive interpretations of classic work, a bold approach to contemporary theatre and a dedication to creating the most intimate theatrical experience possible.

Under the artistic leadership of Michael Halberstam and the executive leadership of Kathryn M. Lipuma, Writers Theatre has grown to become a major Chicagoland cultural destination with a national reputation for excellence, being called the top regional theatre in the nation by The Wall Street Journal. The company, which plays to a sold-out and discerning audience of more than 60,000 patrons each season, has garnered critical praise for the consistent high quality and intimacy of its artistry—providing the finest interpretations of both classic and contemporary theatre in its two intensely intimate venues. 

In February 2016, Writers Theatre opened a new, state-of-the-art facility. This established the company's first permanent home—a new theatre center in downtown Glencoe, designed by the award-winning, internationally renowned Studio Gang Architects, led by Founder and Design Principal Jeanne Gang, FAIA, in collaboration with Theatre Consultant Auerbach Pollock Friedlander. The new facility has allowed the Theatre to continue to grow to accommodate its audience, while maintaining its trademark intimacy. The new facility resonates with and complements the Theatre’s neighboring Glencoe community, adding tremendous value to Chicagoland and helping to establish the North Shore as a premier cultural destination.

Find Writers Theatre on Facebook at, follow @WritersTheatre on Twitter or @Writers_Theatre on Instagram. For more information, visit

Dates:   First performance: Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Press opening: Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 7:30pm
Closing performance: March 17, 2019

Schedule: Tuesdays – Fridays: 7:30pm (except February 28 & March 7); Saturdays: 3:00pm (except February 9) and 7:30pm; Sundays: 2:00pm and 6:00pm (except February 10, March 3 & 17). Wednesday matinee performances on February 27 & March 13 at 3:00pm.

Open-Captioned performance: Thursday, March 14, 2019 at 7:30pm

ASL-Interpreted performance: Saturday, March 16, 2019 at 7:30pm

Location: The Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre; 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe

Prices: Prices for all performances range from $35 - $80; Purchase early for best prices   

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe;  847-242-6000;

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