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Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (The August Wilson Century Cycle) Hardcover – April 1, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"The play's themes are not new to the stage . . . the black American search for identity . . . and the process by which any American sells his soul for what Arthur Miller calls the salemean's dream. Mr. Wilson's style, however, is all his own. . . . He has lighted a dramatic fuse that snakes and hisses through several anguished eras of American life. When the fuse reaches its explosive final destination, the audience is impaled by the impact."
—Frank Rich, The New York Times

"Extraordinary! Ma Rainey rides on the exultant notes of the blues!"
—Jack Kroll, Newsweek

"What a joy! Brilliant . . . explosive! One of the most dramatically riveting plays I've seen in years. You must see it!"
—William A Raidy, Newhouse Newspapers

"A genuine work of art . . ."
—Brendan Gill, The New Yorker

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

August Wilson is the most influential and successful African American playwright writing today. He is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fences, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II, Ma Rainy's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, Jitney and Radio Golf. His plays have been produced all over the world.

Product Details

  • Series: The August Wilson Century Cycle
  • Hardcover: 120 pages
  • Publisher: Theatre Communications Group (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559362995
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559362993
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,558,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

August Wilson (1945-2005) 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 African Americans, decade by decade, over the course of the twentieth century. Mr. Wilson's plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country, on Broadway and throughout 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 work garnered many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain's Olivier Award for Jitney; and eight 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, Jitney and Radio Golf. 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 include 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 Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships in playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award and the 2003 Heinz Award. He was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, 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. In 2007, he was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.
Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, and lived in Seattle at the time of his death. He is survived by two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This play shows how the rage caused by racism can be manifested in unusual ways. Each character, the blues singer and her band, has a different means of trying to gain control of a racist society hoping to, thereby, overcome it. The author's surprisingly humurous dialogue accentuates the story but, there is no mistaking the gravity of these characters's pain. Wilson's writing makes the play fast-paced and gives excellent insight to the histories of the individual characters. The use of blues lyrics and speech make them not just backdrops but characters, themselves. The abrupt ending seems a little forced, but the play is extremely entertaining.
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Format: Paperback
Recognized as a great American playwright with numerous awards, August Wilson has brilliantly chronicled the black experience through decades. Depicting the 1920s, he wrote "Ma Rainey" in 1982, a real life blues singer.

The scene for "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", takes place in a recording studio in 1927 where two white music executives are making a record with blues singer, Ma Rainey and a group of musicians.

Because the focus is on four male band members. it may take a while to try to put a face with each character, but within a short time, you grasp who the characters are - their values, beliefs and fears.

Ma Rainey's tone of voice is profound and nobody can push her around. Some critics report that Ma Rainey was exploitive and abusive to her band members, but I certainly did not get that impression. She was just tough and she knew how important her role was in blues music! Ma Rainey didn't take any crap from the white executives or anyone.

The dialogue interweaves with Ma's performance onstage and the band members during rehearsals. Their identities evolve and it's clear who and why they are as they share their experience with racist America and we then know their role in a racist society and industry.

A dramatic ending caps the story when the most bitter player reacts violently when another member steps on his shoes. To me, the incident seemed unjustifiable to provoke such a violent reaction by another member. It appeared out of place.

If you have an interest in the work of a great playwright or another interpretation of black experience through the decades, read more from this amazing man.
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Format: Paperback
This play is set in a studio during the early days of sound recording. Ma Rainey's back-up band awaits the overdue arrival of the so-called Queen of Blues, discussing their lives and arguing about the music scene and their places in it. The white studio execs are practically tearing their hair out over Ma's tardiness and the demands that she is sure to make when she arrives. When she finally comes, she is every bit as demanding and overbearing as we expect, but also very perceptive-she is well aware that black artists are being exploited by the very record company people who continually urge her to be "reasonable" about the amount of money that she "wastes" on personal demands while recording the music that makes them so rich.
Although it features very good dialogue and some fine monologues, nothing much happens dramatically during the course of the play. There is an explosive finale, but it feels contrived and overdone, as though Wilson didn't know where to take his characters after all of the talking stopped.
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Format: Paperback
This is the fourth play I have read by August Wilson, the other three being "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "The Piano Lesson,"and "Fences" - the latter two won Pulitzer prizes. This play deals with the same social issues concerning black Americans that are standard in the plays of Wilson. Of the four I have read, this one is unique in that it is set in Chicago and not Pittsburgh. I must say, as good as this play was, the story did not have as many dimensions as the others I have read, and therefore, not as complex - making less room for character development. To be fair, this was one of Wilson's earlier plays, and perhaps he was still trying to develop the social element in his plays. My biggest praises for the play is that it is very funny at times, more so than the others with which I am familiar. Also, as a musician myself, I liked the setting of the play (a recording studio.) I must say, however, that the dramatic conclusion of the play was a little overdone and puzzling.
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Format: Hardcover
"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" (1985) is part of August Wilson's "Century Cycle" of ten plays and is set in Chicago in the 1920's. The black bottom, a dance originated in New Orleans, became very popular during the twenties in the Flapper era. Ma Rainey, a successful singer tours around the country with her own band, and sings a black bottom song. Although she is the title character, she is not the main character in this play. Levee, who writes his own music, wants the band to adopt his style of playing, and wants his own band, is the central character. He even wants to steal Ma Rainey's girlfriend. He's a rebel who seems bent on self-destruction. Why not call the play "Levee's Gripes" rather than lead us to believe it's about the singer?
After a long section of Levee arguing with Ma's band members, we look forward to the entrance of Ma, hoping that she'll take over the play and give the play a more engrossing direction. She comes on stage, a very demanding and egotistical performer and sings her song, but she doesn't entirely take over the play. She is fed up with Levee and gets back at him.
The play takes place in recording studio in which the white record producer and Ma's white manager hold sway. Ma's band is supposed to be rehearsing while they're waiting for the diva to enter, but they are arguing and fighting. It's a very talky play with sections of songs such as when Slow Drag sings "Hear Me Talking to You." There are some funny lines in the play, and the entrance of Ma and her entourage is almost like an old vaudeville routine, like a movie from the twenties when she comes on stage with a cop in tow. Ma's insistence oh having her stuttering nephew sing is comic.
Levee's chief antagonist in the band is Toledo, the thinker and reader.
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