Reviews BroadwayNYC Published 21 December 2022

Review: Ain’t No Mo’ at the Belasco Theatre

Belasco Theatre ⋄ Through 23rd December 2022

An electric new play about Blackness in America comes to Broadway. Nicole Serratore reviews.

Nicole Serratore

Jordan E. Cooper in Ain’t No Mo’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)


The business of Broadway has never not been brutal. But in this late-pandemic moment it seems even harder to keep a show running.  Early closing notices have been flying including for the Broadway transfer of Ain’t No Mo’, but now there has been a brief reprieve. I was at the show when they announced a one-week extension.

This new play deserves to find its audience as the material is without question funny, provocative, smart, ribald, and heartbreaking. It is packed with so many ideas, images, and killer performances. This should be the kind of show that becomes the talking point for the season, a cultural conversation piece about a new generation of theater makers.

I think it is easy to become a little dulled to the idea of the “power” of theater when a lot of it is so anodyne. But this is the show that smashes through the wall and never lets you off the hook for a second afterwards.

Playwright Jordan E. Cooper’s Ain’t No Mo’ is about blackness, racism, white supremacy, and America, particularly in the post-Obama years. It is a satire that posits what if all Black people in America received an email giving them a one-way ticket to Africa for a chance to start over.

With the last flight out on African American Airlines, Peaches (Cooper) is the gate agent managing the long day of chaos at gate 1619. While the play jumps to other characters and scenes as these emails fly into other people’s inboxes, the show returns repeatedly to Peaches.

Peaches is its heart—Black, queer, and in drag. In a perfectly tailored Emilio Sosa red suit with a pink wig and the biggest eyes on the planet, she is fabulously put together and at the same time falling apart. She is a truthteller and a protector. She is warm, hilarious, caustic, caring, exhausted, and scared. With her giant eyes, she is taking us all in and staring us down. If there were no other reasons to see this play (and there are many), Peaches would be it.

Cooper’s performance is so complex as Peaches negotiates so many truths simultaneously. In particular, he juxtaposes these parts of her that are open-hearted where she is making sure her friends get to the airport and she tries to protect the people in her line from losing their place. But then there are deeper aspects of her that must be closed. She confesses to being beaten up the night before and that it was Black men who did that to her. “I realized a long time ago that sometimes black hate black more than any white ever could, and knowing that I’m going to a place where all I see is black, scares the fuck outta me, ” she says.  A departure to Africa, does not mean the same thing to everyone.

Ain’t No Mo’ does not shy away from intracommunity criticism. The play goes to great lengths to lampoon everyone and make clear the Black community is not a monolith–from a sketch about a wealthy Black family trying to hide their blackness (personified) in their basement to a reality show reunion of the “Real Baby Mamas of the South Side” made up of actors performing these characters and their faked reality with a white woman claiming she is transracial thrown in for good measure.

Ain’t No Mo’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Ain’t No Mo’ speaks with refreshing frankness. It engages directly with the post-Obama reality and how nothing has changed for Black people in America. Even the former President will be aboard this flight (“Yes, bitch, we found him!”). The faux baby mamas scene, while played for laughs that get increasingly uncomfortable, is rooted in real cultural appropriation and offers a demonstration of white tears. The show tackles police violence, abortion, and prison too.

Some scenes are stronger than others and it does not always feel seamless. Yet, it the whole is stronger than its parts. And even if it is dealing in touchy, difficult subjects there is so much humor you might not dwell on them. It’s in the processing of it’s aftermath that I felt the immense weight of what it was saying.

It also would not work but for these actors—Fedna Jaquet, Marchánt Davis, Shannon Matesky, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Crystal Lucas-Perry—who juggle an inordinate number of characters with specific gestures, accents, and mannerisms.

In one shining example, Lucas-Perry as “Black” has a wild and overstuffed monologue where she performs an array of Black identities (“As in tell you ‘What we gone do’, black. As in tell you ‘what we not gone do”, black. As in clap my hands on ev-e-ry syll-a-ble, black. As in Claire Huxtable, black. As in Damn Damn Damn, black. As in Harriet Tubman, black. As in shut up before I give yo ass sumn to cry about, black. As in They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, black.”). She changes her delivery on every line with precision. I’d also mention Ebony Marshall-Oliver who holds and has to swallow some bullshit in the baby mamas scene. Watching her struggle with what she is dealing with is so carefully executed.

I know there is a tiresome binary of discussing Black pain versus Black joy (one I have fallen victim too). This show manages to skirt all that by shoving that limited frame out much further. This is about Blackness in America. That is not a small thing. As the show points out, that involves a complicated history, a deep impact on American culture, and a continued fight to be seen as equal. But it is also people—funny, sad, wounded, loving, fed-up, and holding it together. As they always have.

Nicole Serratore

Nicole Serratore writes about theater for Variety, The Stage, American Theatre magazine, and TDF Stages. She previously wrote for the Village Voice and Flavorpill. She was a co-host and co-producer of the Maxamoo theater podcast. She is a member of the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle.

Review: Ain’t No Mo’ at the Belasco Theatre Show Info

Produced by Lee Daniels

Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb

Written by Jordan E. Cooper

Scenic Design Scott Pask (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design)

Lighting Design Adam Honoré

Sound Design Jonathan Deans & Taylor Williams

Cast includes Jordan E. Cooper, Fedna Jacquet, Marchánt Davis, Shannon Matesky, Ebony Marshall-Oliver and Crystal Lucas-Perry.


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