It seems fitting that People Productions is singing its swan song with the regional premiere of August Wilson's classic play, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." In his Century Cycle of plays, Wilson set out to chronicle the African-American experience in 20th-century America, and for the past 17 years, soon-to-retire Richard Scharine and his little-theater-company-that-could have brought slices of that experience to Salt Lake audiences. From veteran playwrights like Wilson and James Baldwin to exciting newcomers like Dominique Morisseau, People Productions has staged vivid portraits of African-American life that we would never have seen without it.
With its Broadway production in 1984, "Ma Rainey" announced the emergence of a major American playwright and remains one of Wilson's best-known plays. It showcases the importance of two of Wilson's trademark themes the blues and storytelling in African-American life. The character of Ma is based on Gertrude Rainey, the mother of the blues.
The play is set in 1927 on Chicago's South Side, where Ma and her band have assembled to make a recording. Ma is very late, and that gives Wilson the chance to do what he loves best let the band members share stories about their lives. There are four of them: Cutler (Hayward Buchanan), Slow Drag (Chris Curlett), Toledo (William Ferrer) and the explosive Levee (Calbert Beck), and each has a tale about the difficulty or danger of being black in a white society.