Metro Weekly

‘Ain’t No Mo” Review: Woolly’s Ticket to Ride

A surreal comedy about "solving" America's race problem, "Ain't No Mo'" roars out of the gate, but flags toward the finish.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: Ain't No Mo -- Photo: DJ Corey
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: Ain’t No Mo — Photo: DJ Corey

The playful title of Jordan E. Cooper’s Ain’t No Mo’ (★★★☆☆) begs the question, “Ain’t no mo’ what?” The play’s primary interlocutor, a drag-fabulous flight agent for African-American Airlines named Peaches — played with tough mama ‘tude by Jon Hudson Odom — even spins the title into a quip while delivering in-flight instructions to her passengers.

Yet the question lingers over director Lili-Anne Brown’s broadly and acerbically funny production at Woolly Mammoth (co-produced with Baltimore’s Center Stage). Presumably, though not definitively, it might mean ain’t no mo’ Black folks left in the United States after the government, in an act of misguided diplomacy or ineradicable racism or just whimsy (who knows?) offers every Black American a one-way ticket to Africa.

And not just to any random spot on the continent — there is a hilariously specific method for figuring out which African nation should be each passenger’s new home. The last flight, departing from Gate 1619, naturally, is boarding soon, and Peaches is running out of patience with the stragglers.

Somehow, this is what’s become of the nation that elected its first Black president to two terms. That mid-aughts period of Black pride and reverie is both celebrated and lampooned in an early vignette set at the rollicking Baptist funeral service for Brother Right to Complain.

It’s November 2008, a Black man has just been elected to the White House, so the community can put Brother Right to Complain to rest, right? Racism’s solved.

That post-Obama joke still kills, and the scene, lifted up, up, up to the rafters by Breon Arzell’s shouting, showboating preacher, digs deep into Black folks’ feelings of joy and relief that night in November. Let the church say Amen, and savor the thrill of kinship with the brotha elected to the highest office in the land.

“The President is my nigga!” the preacher shouts, leading his flock and the audience in a boisterous call-and-response. Arzell and the all-female flock (Shannon Dorsey, LaNisa Frederick, Shannon Matesky, and Brandi Porter) turn up the camp and caricature to full volume, setting a blaring tone for the vignettes that follow.

The ensemble’s energy never really hits that peak again, though a lot of the comedy hits hard as the scenes explore this fantastical eventual outcome of the post-Obama years: shipping all the Black people to Africa.

So maybe what we’re talking about is, ain’t no mo’ racism, provided the government can just purge one race from the melting pot. The play’s premise, outlandish as it is, isn’t that much wilder than the unprecedented political and cultural weirdness that has actually followed the Obama years.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: Ain't No Mo -- Photo: DJ Corey
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company: Ain’t No Mo — Photo: DJ Corey

But the satirical sharpness varies from scene to scene, progressing from a community health center where Sista Girl 73,542 and other women in the waiting room consider their bodily choices, to the set of a reunion episode of Real Baby Mamas of the Southside where the pointedly broad portrayals both play up and puncture stereotypes.

A later scene of a bougie Black family weighing whether to get on the flight to the Motherland bursts into a rippling comedy of code-switching when their ratchet relative, in her hair bonnet and drenched in FUBU and gold chains, pops out of the floor.

The scene’s repetitious comic beats play out to diminishing returns, but the performances throughout are thoroughly engaged. Vivid characterizations gain a great assist from Yvonne Miranda’s lively costumes, and makeup and wigs by Dana Hurd.

Brown’s directorial hand keeps the episodic evening moving, although the rhythm is somewhat disjointed, as the show stops and starts with each transition to a new scene. The impression is less that of experiencing successive movements in a cohesive work, than watching a collection of separate works on the same theme.

That theme is pregnant with possibilities, and the play is short on conclusions. It might be that the truth is we can’t all just get along — or perhaps that there ain’t no mo’ time left for racial division if people want to hold onto a United States that’s home to everybody.

Ain’t No Mo’ runs through Oct. 9 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D St NW. Tickets are $29 to $67. Visit www.woollymammoth.net.

The show runs from Oct. 27 to Nov. 20 at Center Stage, 700 North Calvert St., in Baltimore. Visit www.centerstage.org.

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