‘Ain’t No Mo,’ the Uproarious Satire Explodes With Brilliance on Broadway
Ain’t No Mo which premiered at The Public Theater in 2019 brings its scathing, sardonic wit and wisdom to Broadway in a broader, handsomer, electrically paced production with incredible performances and extraordinary, complex dynamism. Presented by a host of producing partners with Lee Daniels topping the list and The Public Theater end-stopping it, Jordan E. Cooper’s brilliance now can be appreciated by a wider audience. Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb, the production shines brightly with the creative team of Scott Pask (scenic design) Emilio Sosa (costume design) Adam Honore, who also was responsible for lighting design in the Public Theater production, Jonathan Deans and Taylor Williams (sound design) and Mia M. Neal (hair & wig design).
The tenor, structure and characterizations which send up Black cultural attitudes and systemic white institutional racism and fascism in Cooper’s excoriating farce and brash, in-your face cataclysm of vignettes, remain essentially the same as the Public’s production which I adored and thought incredibly trenchant (https://wordpress.com/posts/caroleditosti.com?s=ain%27t+no+mo). Based on the premise of the political collapse of the country with Putin installing Donald Trump as president (my opinion as per the Mueller Report) as the main conceit of the play, the government offers a one-way flight back to Africa for all Blacks.
This was a perfect trope in 2019 and still is. Though we have a different administration in the presidency, the same pernicious elements that uplift oppression and inequity refuse to submit to the constitution which safeguards Black citizens and all citizens’ rights. Indeed, since 2019 the villians are hell bent to vitiate as many of our rights as they can. So Cooper’s play is tremendously vital as a clarion call against white supremacist tyranny and despotism at the heart of Trumpism and Republicans’ silent agreement with it.
Cooper attempts a few updates in this production since 2019. He references Black Lives Matter and Vice President Kamala Harris. However, he omits references to the horrific changes in the political climate which has worsened. Nor does he reference the Biden presidency which has sought to reverse every perverse corruption the Trump presidency and Republican party in silent complicity wrought on the country. Trump’s blasphemy of democracy, the January 6th insurrection and COVID botch job (read Bob Woodward’s book Rage) where Trump wittingly exacerbated the proliferation of the virus, killing the most vulnerable communities (persons of color, the elderly) are not mentioned in this production. The updates are unnecessary because Cooper’s themes are more current than ever. In fact they are prescient and hilariously frightening.
The Trump Republicans have continued their fascism and racism with a new vengeance against the Democratic Party which appears to stand for democracy and accountability. At this writing the entire Republican Party has not raised the hue and cry necessary to condemn Trump’s association with two individuals who support white supremacy, Nazis and in particular one individual’s praise of Hitler as a Holocaust denier.
Such white supremacist oppression and outright tyranny are the key points of Ain’t No Mo which suggests truth in ridicule and doesn’t posit simplistic solutions. Cooper’s genius with Stevie Walker-Webb’s superb director’s illumination REPRESENT metaphorically. Within the high-anxiety, farcical elements of the play are the roiling currents of fear and anxiety that reveal what it is to be black in the United States today, regardless of whichever black socioeconomic class one fits into.
This is especially so after the January 6th insurrection, 1,100,000 pandemic deaths and the screaming lies of white supremacist terrorist QAnon politicos like Louis Gomer, Marjorie Taylor Green and fist pumping Josh Hawley. It is especially so as Trump acolytes whitewash violent behaviors as patriotic expressions of freedom, in a cover-up of what they actually are, crimes against humanity and an attempt to destroy the constitution and the rule of law which holds white supremacist terrorist criminals like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys and their encouragers (Trump’s allies) accountable.
Thus, Cooper’s prologue set in a local black church in 2008 at a metaphoric funeral service of Brother Righttocomplain is beyond perfect. Pastor Freeman, the wonderful Marchant Davis, proclaims that the election of black president Barack Obama will save the black community and remove their need to protest injustice, inequity, police brutality and lynchings, and racial hatreds. Parishioners (Fedna Jacquet, Shannon Matesky, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Crystal Lucas-Perry) dressed in tight white dresses, thanks to Emilio Sosa’s outrageously funny costume design, scream and shout the glory. These congregants affirm with Pastor Freeman that the “light-skinned” (an irony) Black president will solve all their problems as their very own messiah whose freeing power they “own.”
Cooper’s memes and jokes are acutely ironic and a veritable laugh riot. For example he affirms that Obama is their “ni&&er” and as such there “ain’t no mo discrimination, ain’t no mo holleration, ain’t gone be NO more haterration…” The good reverend lists an end to every conceivable example of racist terror visited upon Blacks since the Civil War because with a Black president, abuse of the Black race by an unjust government will now stop. Of course, this is an irony because learned behavior and systemic institutional racism is so complex and entrenched, everyone in the nation must work very hard to overcome it. Given the pockets of prejudice and discrimination even in blue states, this is easier said than done. Cooper illustrates this beautifully by the conclusion of the opening scene.
With the burial of Brother Righttocomplain, “Freeman” preaches “ain’t no mo strife, no more marches to be led, no more tears to be shed…” in celebration of a real “going home party.” Of course, when Pastor Freeman hears gunfire as the parishioners praise, sing and dance, reality makes its ugly appearance. With sirens, cop cars’ flashing lights and gun shots, the future descends during the Obama presidency and afterward to the annihilating Trump presidency.
Above the shouts of praise Marchand’s Freeman hears the overwhelming news reports of the Flint water crisis, deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Rekia Boyd, Jordan Davis, Alton Sterling, The Charleston Nine and countless others. The reports reveal Freeman’s overestimation of Obama’s power as a Black president to mitigate racial hatreds and alleviate the social oppression Blacks experience every day. The same discrimination and violence raises its ugly head, despite President Obama’s best efforts to stop it. So the foreboding harbinger of the Trump presidency’s return to Jim Crow 2.0 terrors hover, unless blacks hop on those flights to Africa on African American Airlines. If they evacuate, they will save their lives. If they stay, they lose everything including their black identity and will end up dead or in prison.
Of course Cooper’s Africa evacuation is what President Abraham Lincoln suggested as a way to solve the “negro question” after the Civil War was over. However, Frederick Douglass stood up to Lincoln and vociferously opposed leaving because the United States was their country since 1619, and their association would never be African because their tribal history had been taken from them.
As a solution to the hell of Black America’s unequal treatment under the law, evacuation to Africa is Cooper’s over-the-top response. It is a double irony considering that once again, Blacks are introduced to a new form of dispossession, alienation, abandonment and diaspora, while the oppressive white culture “owns” all of the historical contributions Blacks have made in the arts, sciences, government, technology, industry and every field imaginable. In the play African Americans’ contributions reside metaphorically in a lovely bag which flight attendant Peaches (the inimitable Jordan E. Cooper) tries to take with her as she attempts to board the flight. But symbolically, the bag cannot be removed to Africa. And trying to leave with it, Peaches misses the flight and loses her identity and everything she’s fought for as an American. She is reduced to the state of those who survived the Middle Passage and were set up to be auctioned off as slaves. But she is “keeper” of the bag and recognizes that she is left to represent Black culture and identity.
Another key point Cooper makes with the symbolism of the “bag” is that the greatest Black contributions have been forged in the crucible of slavery and subsequent decades of oppression as Blacks and the culture have changed laws to be more equitable. Black contributions are as indelible to who Americans are as a culture and society as the Native Indian lands are the foundation upon which this nation has been built and has prospered. Though white oppression and white supremacist tyranny vaults its own greatness in lies, ignoring such contributions, it is a dangerous oversight and underestimation of Black energy, vitality and creativity. American greatness is in its diversity, and the culture and society will thrive if no one is left behind or evacuated. We must work together and seek equity for all to be great (an underlying theme of Cooper’s play).
After the opening prologue the play’s structure alternates between vignettes of various Black Americans’ response to escape to Africa and Peaches’ growing frustration boarding passengers under a deadline as an exit strategy from the hell of the coming white oppression. Cooper’s Peaches is wonderful as the wired, loud, candid, funny flight attendant who prods her passengers with the consequences of staying: prison and confiscation of everything they own or death (transmogrification). With each vignette we are apprised of the oppression Blacks have been conditioned to which is the foremost reason why Blacks should leave.
In the “Circle of Life” sequence which takes place at a clinic (since Roe vs. Wade was overturned with Dobbs, this is a particularly poignant scene) we watch the digital counter enumerate that are millions in line to terminate their pregnancies rather than give birth to a child whose days are numbered. Surely odds are they will end up as a statistic of police brutality, gang violence or other casualty of an oppressive culture which has come to kill those who drive or walk “while black.” Damien (Marchant Davis) tries to convince the pregnant Trisha (Fedna Jacquet) to keep his child rather than abort it. However, he is a spirit, shot to death, so Trisha who waits with another woman for almost two months finally goes into the room for the procedure as the plane arrives to begin boarding passengers in a humorous end of the scene as one pregnant woman thinks the plane is filled with the “9/11 bit*&es,” coming for their heads.
In a revelation of how Black identity is twisted and nullified by the culture, “The Real Baby Momas of the Southside” is a hysterical parody of any of the puerile reality series which reduce women to silly, gossipy, back-biting, angry, fools, whether black or white, as “benign” entertainment value. God forbid if this were a political show which demonstrated their intelligence and erudition. Instead, memes of what Black identity means come to the fore in this humorous and drop-dead serious send-up of shows which exploit the idea of “being Black.” Some of the funniest lines come when the women are off camera (the cameramen are white) and we discover that they don’t have children and speak without accents and epithets. We see the show is a blind to please and brainwash the audience, who enjoys seeing how “low-class” Black women are. Meanwhile, there are other ways of being, but this isn’t a show about how strong, forthright, powerful and intelligent Black women are.
“The lighter the skin, the better” is a reality Blacks have had to deal with because of white fascist physical mores. The trend has morphed over the decades into a perverse reverse. Other ethnic groups including whites have embraced the “Black ethos” in a perverse acceptance of only the superficiality of “being black” without accepting or recognizing any of the horrific sacrifices Blacks have made over their 400-year history in this nation. Cooper’s beautiful example of this appears on steroids with the character Rachonda, whose real name is Rachel (Shannon Matesky). She is a baby mama the others reject because she is white and is going through transracial treatments to become Black. When she is called out on it in a LOL moment by Tracy (Ebony Marshall-Oliver), Kendra (Fedna Jacquet) and Karen (Crystal Lucas-Perry), she reveals that she has no clue about Black American sacrifices and and just wants to ride the current wave of Black female “cool,” generated by Michelle Obama. She never receives the email inviting her to escape to Africa, caught between her memes and unconverted to her “full Blackness,” an irony.
In the last two vignettes before Cooper’s exceptional, heartfelt conclusion, the first reveals a wealthy Black family who embrace white upper class mores, genociding their own identity to convince themselves they belong to the superior, fascist, master race (like a celebrity who recently praised Hitler). By internalizing white supremacist values, they don’t even realize they have destroyed their identity, their souls and their uniqueness. Furthermore, by adopting the”white” ethos as the proud bourgeois class, they have trampled all those who have shed blood to advance the hope of achieving civil rights, equal opportunity and justice by overcoming institutional racism. The bourgeois family don’t believe they are oppressed because they live by the “green.” The supremacists would never come for them because they have money.
We don’t realize how brainwashed they are until Black (the amazing Crystal Lucas-Perry) emerges from her prison underneath the mansion where their wealthy father has chained her for forty years. Finally free, Black confronts them in one of the most wild, convulsively humorous and hyperbolic rants about their blackness and the imperative to leave for Africa. They are so “white-fascist-think,” the truth she speaks is anathema. They kill her (typical Black on Black crime). The neighbors hearing “Black” screaming non bourgeois are infuriated about it. They call the police right at the precise moment Black has been genocided.
The scene is a powder keg of dynamite performances which are memorable and tragic because the family believes that they are a different identity via the “green” (money). It doesn’t matter if they stay or go. They have already lost everything valuable about what their culture means. Staying, they lose their lives. Cooper’s theme is clear. An oppressive fascist culture has as its most horrific tactic, get blacks to destroy the finest traits about them, their Blackness, by rejecting it and internalizing white tropes. Without that Blackness, they embody the worst of the fascist “master race.” They genocide their own and themselves.
Cooper also identifies the Black, female prison population in a very powerful scene. When freedom is posited, one of the prisoners, Blue (Crystal Lucas Perry transitions to a completely different mien and aura) hesitates to leave. In great fear and rage from all the abuse of her past, she creates a situation where she almost destroys her chances for freedom and is killed (or never makes the plane and is transmogrified). How Cooper ends this vignette and the last one when Peaches doesn’t make the flight to join those evacuating the US, are memorable scenes. They leave the audience in awe. The majesty of the actors’ performances and the stark language laden with substance and richness are stunning.
It is a supreme irony that though there is not one Caucasian in his play, Cooper’s themes and messages are particularly for those who have been blinded to believe that their skin color exempts them from white supremacy’s tyranny. It is only a matter of degree. Despotism impacts everyone in the culture as Cooper indicates in the last scene of the play.
In the end scene, the jet pulls away as the Blacks leave for Africa renouncing everything to go to a safe haven, while Peaches is left “holding the bag,” though it cannot be pulled up from the very place on which it rests, having become rooted to America. Cooper’s hyperbole may seem a farcical extreme. However, what they escape in the play we all faced because of the tyranny of the former president, who weaponized of a pandemic which killed a larger proportionate number of blacks and people of color. The blasphemous white supremacist tyranny the Blacks escape via his play’s metaphor, in reality, incited an undeclared war against U.S. democracy in a violent insurrection to thwart the peaceful transfer of power when Trump lost the election. Cooper’s understanding of the murderous intent of white supremacy is divinely inspired. He is a veritable Cassandra in his ability to read the ominous signs and incorporate them in this play. So the point that the only safe haven from such white tyranny is a return to Africa has been made palpable in the Ain’t No Mo, 2022.
The work is breathtaking in its themes, performances, writing and artistry. Don’t miss it. For tickets and times go to their website https://aintnomobway.com/ You will belly laugh and be moved at the same time.