While the blues is an aural medium, this week it takes on a visual dimension, too. That’s because the blues is front and center in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The 1984 August Wilson work that uses the genre to tell a story of ambition, despair, exploitation and racial politics opens at the Mark Taper Forum on Sunday, Sept. 11 (previews are already underway). The show, which represents the ninth time that a Wilson work has been mounted by Center Theatre Group, runs through Oct. 16.
Ma Rainey is directed by Phylicia Rashad, the TV and film veteran who last year helmed the Taper’s production of Paul Oakley Stovall’s Immediate Family. Set in Chicago in 1927, the plot centers on a recording session with real-life blues singer Ma Rainey (played by Lillias White) and the four members of her band, including pianist Toledo (Glynn Turman) and the young, ambitious trumpet player Levee (Jason Dirden). While waiting for Rainey to show up, the members turn to jokes and discussions of daily life. Tensions rise. And that’s all before Rainey and her entourage arrive, ushering in another set of conflicts.