By Ajani Jones
This article was first published in DC Metro Theater Arts on 9/21/22 here.
It is no easy task to strike the perfect balance between sincerity and hilarity. The typical production tends to choose one over the other, as more often than not, these two tones are at war, resulting in a messy tonal disaster. However, as the steady click of heels drew all eyes forward when Peaches (Jon Hudson Odom) took the Woolly Mammoth stage, all expectations for the “typical” performance were quickly abandoned.
With a series of witty remarks delivered by a stunningly clad air hostess, Ain’t No Mo’ began boldly, a momentum that would hold strong for the remainder of the night’s performance.
Ain’t No Mo’ is at its core a satire built upon the Black American experience. The play by Jordan E. Cooper, which primarily takes place in a nebulous “any day now,” is broken into several scenes, all tying back to the imagined mass exodus of African Americans from the United States on African American Airlines’ final departure to Africa, Flight 1619. Following the monumental election of former President Barack Obama and the hilarious yet reverent funeral of Mr. Right to Complain, the show continues as it simultaneously depicts Peaches’ readying for the flight between scenes of various passengers’ reactions and preparations.
As directed by Lili-Anne Brown, the cast, despite being small in number, awes the audience through their collective larger-than-life stage presence. Each one delivered a compelling and thrilling performance. As the sole connecting thread throughout the play, Odom’s portrayal of Peaches was stellar. As the sole performer on stage during his scenes, Odom commanded the audience’s attention through his infectious energy and unwavering charm. His performance wowed the audience into throes of joyful laughter and reflective sorrow resulting from his equally captivating and complex emotional range.
The remaining five other actors in Ain’t No Mo’ played a colorful cast of passengers as they processed the news of the departing flight. Each scene, while entirely different, felt equally captivating due to the cast’s phenomenal performances. It would be easy to imagine that the cast was far larger than a meager six. The fact that the many different characters remained distinct yet equally compelling was a testament to the actors’ incredible abilities to devote themselves to the individual stories they were conveying.
Although operating across a wide tonal and thematic range, Ain’t No Mo’ never once falters in its presentation, but rather allows its drastically different tones to complement one another. The show is undeniably hilarious, each well-timed joke drawing resounding laughter from its audience. Even though much of the show’s humor could not fully resonate with the non-Black members of its audience, the show managed to keep its audience laughing, an indication of its excellent comedic timing and genuine hilarity.
While Ain’t No Mo’ is a satire at its core, the show also does not shy away from more serious subject matter but rather fully embraces it. There are several more somber and heartwrenching scenes laced throughout the play that leave its audience appropriately reflective on the severity of the situations faced by the characters. These scenes do not detract from the humor, nor does the humor detract from them. Rather, the show’s duality helps to highlight the severe reality faced by Black Americans across the United States. Amid its grandiosity and camp aesthetics, the show gives an incredible amount of care to the stories and messages it delivers, using humor effectively to shed a light on reality.
The more technical aspects of Ain’t No Mo’ are also impressive. The show makes excellent use of the space. While the set remains mostly the same throughout, the changes that are made (as small as they may be) were deliberate and methodical, completely transforming the stage and ensuring that no two scenes felt physically the same. In addition to the expert use of space, the play’s seamless sound design and creative use of lighting perfectly emphasized the mood for each scene, even further enhancing the already incredible performances of the show’s stellar cast. The strategic use of popular and foundational music by Black artists also helped create smooth transitions as well as creatively tie scenes together through their poignant and thematically appropriate lyrics.
To its credit, Ain’t No Mo’ is a show deeply rooted in its Blackness. Interwoven within its expert implementation of Black pop culture, the play gives a meaningful glance into the many wonderfully diverse facets of Blackness and the Black experience through its distinct framing of scenes and characters. These characters, united by their desire to find a seat on Flight 1619, are all so incredibly different because, as the physical manifestation of one family’s repressed Blackness profoundly proclaims, Blackness is no singular experience. Blackness is wonderfully complex and different for each person. The play is able to effectively emphasize this beautiful message through its distinct portrayals of different Black experiences.