Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the first in a cycle of plays by August Wilson that dramatize elements of black experience in each decade of the twentieth century. Other plays in the cycle are Fences (pr., pb. 1985), Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (pr. 1986, pb. 1988), and The Piano Lesson (pr. 1988, pb. 1990), all of which were developed at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference and given their premieres at the Yale Repertory Theatre.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opened on Broadway in October, 1984, to critical acclaim and won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Fences, subsequently produced at several regional theaters, opened on Broadway in the spring of 1987 and received the Pulitzer Prize, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the Drama Desk and Outer Circle Awards, as well as Tony Awards for best play and for Lloyd Richards as best director. Fences is the story of a black family during the transitional years of the 1950’s, preceding the civil rights upheaval which changed the face of history in the United States. Troy Maxson, the play’s central character, is a trashman and a former athlete who, at various times, has been a lover, a bully, a liar, and a hypocrite. He is a man with his own system of values, to which he is strongly committed, but his responses are sometimes marred by irrationality and prejudice. His suppressed rage erupts in verbal...

(The entire section is 499 words.)