Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208

Reviews of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were mixed when it debuted in 1984. Writing for Women’s Wear Daily, Howard Kissel notes the freshness of the dialogue and says the cast is ‘‘excellent.’’ New York Times reviewer, Frank Rich, notes that Wilson is a find for American theater and lauds...

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Reviews of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom were mixed when it debuted in 1984. Writing for Women’s Wear Daily, Howard Kissel notes the freshness of the dialogue and says the cast is ‘‘excellent.’’ New York Times reviewer, Frank Rich, notes that Wilson is a find for American theater and lauds the production by the Yale Repertory Theater. Those finding fault with the play include the New York Post’s John Simon, who complained about the play’s weak structure, saying that as a play it is only ‘‘intermittently drama.’’ Edwin Wilson, writing for the Wall Street Journal, agrees, noting that the play is long on theme and short on plot. Wilson writes, ‘‘Polemics don’t make a play.’’ Academics have also paid attention to the play. Kim Pereira, for example, in August Wilson and the African-American Odyssey, examines the themes of separation, migration, and spiritual reunion in the play and the significance of African folklore. Joan Herrington, in i ain’t sorry for nothin’ i done, argues that although critics have found problems with the play’s ‘‘bifurcated focus’’ on white men and black men, ‘‘[a]udiences seem to have found the bifurcation an apt and powerful metaphor for the inequities of the segregated world Wilson was portraying.’’

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