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Ain't No Mo'

  • Theater, Comedy
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, Marchant Davis, Crystal Lucas-Perry and Ebony Marshall-Oliver in Ain't No Mo'
Photograph: Courtesy Joan MarcusAin't No Mo'

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Jordan E. Cooper brings Black comedy to the Great White Way.

Broadway review by Adam Feldman 

Jordan E. Cooper has come to Broadway to make a little noise. “This is your church,” he tells the audience in the pre-show announcement of his uproarious and furious comedy Ain’t No Mo’, in the warmly bossy voice of a drag queen named Peaches. “And for those of you who are quiet, obedient and unresponsive in your church, consider this yo black church, yo sanctuary, yo juke joint, yo kitchen table, yo trial shaker, yo money maker, yo elevator, yo resuscitator.” Amens follow from the crowd amid the stained glass of the Belasco Theatre, and they continue into the play’s audaciously hopeful first scene: a satirical sermon by one Pastor Freeman at the 2008 funeral of “Brother Righttocomplain,” a pillar of the African-American community, whose death has been occasioned by the presumed end of racism signified by the election of Barack Obama.

Cooper seems intent on not only amplifying but multiplying minority voices. He authorizes loud reactions from his Black spectators in particular; Pastor Freeman’s speech, delivered with fire and music by Marchánt Davis, includes a sequence of call-and-response that no non-Black congregants would (or should) dare to join. But the good pastor, of course, is preaching too soon: The presence of a Black man in the White House, it turns out, does not trump four centuries of racial strife. 

​​Ain’t No Mo’ | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

So in Ain’t No Mo’’s second scene, set in a near future, we meet Peaches—played with uncompromising oomph by Cooper himself, in a smart red outfit and long pink hair—in her professional capacity: as the overburdened airport employee in charge of corralling passengers onto a giant plane to Africa, as the final stage of a mass Black exodus organized by the government. (The flight number is 1619.) Peaches is the St. Peter of a heavenly airport gate, helping weary souls fly away to a land where joy may live. Participation is voluntary, but any Black people who stay behind will be transformed into—horror of horrors—privileged white males. “You would have no memory of the soul you were, the dance you’ve been dancing, or the song you’ve been singing,” Peaches points out. (Those things and more seem to have been packed onstage into a single giant purse, unclaimed and unattended, that Peaches calls Miss Bag.)

Ain’t No Mo’ returns to Peaches twice more. In between, in the tradition of shows like George Wolfe’s The Colored Museum and Robert O’Hara’s Bootycandy, it offers short, sharp vignettes that range from overt tragedy (like the one set at an abortion clinic) to broad-swinging comedy (an off-the-rails reality-show spoof that roasts purveyors of Black stereotypes on the same skewer as their eager consumers). These are performed by a protean ensemble of five actors that includes Davis and four women: Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, the very funny Ebony Marshall-Oliver and an astonishing Crystal Lucas-Perry, who dominates the latter third of the show as characters named Black (the personification of African-American culture kept in the basement of a wealthy family’s mansion) and Blue (a prison inmate whose spirit has been crushed).  

As at the Public, the comedic sections seem more confidently crafted than the serious ones—Cooper, remarkably, is just 27 years old—but the overall effect is invigorating. The actors leap headlong into their roles, and Scott Pask’s set, Emilio Sosa’s costumes, Adam Honoré’s lighting, Mia M. Neal’s wigs and Jonathan Deans and Taylor Williams’s sound design help keep the transformations coming. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, who also oversaw its 2019 premiere at the Public with most of the same cast, Ain’t No Mo’ is a dazzling cascade of ideas—sometimes hilarious, sometimes shocking, always edged with risk. It’s as shiny, heavy and fabulously overstuffed as Miss Bag, and it speaks compellingly to the bind of Black Americans in the post-Obama age. With so much baggage, how do you carry on? 

Ain’t No Mo’. Belasco Theatre  (Broadway). By Jordan E. Cooper. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb. With Cooper, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Marchánt Davis, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission

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​​Ain’t No Mo’ | Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Adam Feldman
Written by
Adam Feldman


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