“Ain’t No Mo,” the new comedy, is funny, which is always a great start, but I am not 100% sure that it’s a play. It feels more like a better-written sketch comedy show sans the television cameras, and maybe that’s a trend for Broadway shows — I’m not sure — but there is no question that you will laugh.
So the story is about African Americans receiving an official email from the United States of America informing them that a huge airplane will be available to take them back to Africa. The argument waged is that Black people (I’ve always had an issue with being labeled a color) have always wanted to “go back to Africa,” or instead, I think, white supremacists have to spit those words towards the decedents of enslaved people. Those left, it’s assumed, will step into their whiteness without the yolk of slavery’s guilt.
Written by and starring Jordan E. Cooper (BET’s “The Ms. Pat Show”), “Ain’t No Mo'” gleefully steps into the warped fantasy with the crackling energy of sitcom pushing into those uncomfortable places that racism lives and flourishes.
Cooper’s razor-sharp observations are designed to be provocative, and with a cast of six, they create an array of characters that we all know very well. The lead producer for this Broadway show is the gifted Lee Daniels, who should inform you to some degree about the quality of the work overall.
“Ain’t No Mo'” opens at a funeral in an African-American church, a scene half of the audience of color would remember, especially with the parade of vocal grievers with their perfectly designed hats. The pastor (Merchánt Davis) leads the evening and speaks to the assembled in familiar tones chosen to hit all emotional cords. Now the person inside the casket isn’t a human being at all. It’s purely symbolic but powerful, and that’s the right of African American people to complain. And with this final burial, he’s adding America’s blood-stained past on Election Day in 2008. Let’s keep it real. That day made many people feel hope which looking back, seems cruel.
In a Biblical reference that most Christians would understand, anyone who dares to look back or chooses to stay will be magically transformed into a white man where they will lose their ability to empathize and ultimately their soul. Note: Latinos are on standby.
The remaining sketches touch on those hot-button and relevant topics. They include a grieving woman (Fedna Jacquet), in line with millions, to get an abortion because she doesn’t want her unborn child to meet the same end as her brutally murdered lover.
The reality show “real baby mamas of the south side” uses race as playing cards paying particular attention to a cast member (Shannon Matesky) who claims to be “transracial” like Rachel Dolezal. Naturally, a well-staged fight begins as the other women erupt in a way to shame us and make the white race gleeful. “Ain’t No Mo” is organized chaos, an oxymoron but an accurate description. Every scene is unpredictable from minute to minute. Cooper’s ability to keep it fresh is a testament to his sparkling writing skill.
There are some remarkable performances from Ebony Marshall-Oliver, who shines like a distant star under the direction of Stevie Walker-Webb. Webb, like most of the cast, is an original member of the 2019 premiere at the Public Theater. Some gifted artisans deserve a proverbial shout-out, including costumes by Emilio Sos and hair and wig design by Mia M. Neal.
Now, you don’t have to tell folks this. We know this. It soon becomes as evident as the air we breathe, but you can’t separate American culture from African American culture — you just can’t. The idea that America would flourish without African Americans is as silly as children believing in the Easter Bunny and dear old, white-bearded Santa Claus.
“Ain’t No Mo‘” will not disappoint you. You will laugh and be more to the point, making you think. Ain’t No Mo.” Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes at the Belasco Theatre, 111W.44th St.