Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride: That statement could easily describe being black in America, and Jordan E. Cooper brings that journey to life for another week on Broadway after a successful social media campaign.
His play “Ain’t No Mo'” offers a glimpse of what happens when black people are given the chance to leave America on a one-way ticket to Africa. The production explores race, class, incarceration, abortion, and other themes, and is part “sketch, satire, avant-garde theater and a dose of drag,” according to the site. Sometimes “Ain’t No Mo'” is laughable; at other moments, viewers might shed tears.
Cooper plays Peaches, a flight attendant on the final voyage of African American Airlines Flight 1619. Ain’t No Mo made him the youngest African-American playwright in Broadway history at just 27 years old.
But on Dec 9, Cooper posted online that his play had received an “eviction notice” from Broadway just a week after its premiere. The news meant that “Ain’t No Mo'” had its final performance on Sunday 12/18, the playwright said.
“It’s a new original play called BLACK AF, both things that make it difficult to sell on Broadway,” Cooper wrote in his post, adding that fans have described the production as “the best theatrical experience of their lives.”
Cooper launched the hashtag #SaveAintNoMo to raise awareness of the impending closure and rally support for the play. In response, celebrities like Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Tyler Perry, Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade Spirit Shonda Rhimes bought out all performances of “Ain’t No Mo”.
Emmy winner Lena Waithe, meanwhile, helped host this week’s show. Waithe was recently added to the roster of powerhouse producers behind Ain’t No Mo, which includes Lee Daniels and Slave Play writer Jeremy O. Harris.
Then, in an update at Thursday night’s show, Cooper announced that the production’s Broadway run had been extended according to the deadline — which means theatergoers now have until December 24, 2020. 23 to see the show.
Ain’t No Mo’ premiered at the Public Theater in New York in 2019 and earned Cooper a special mention at the Obie Awards, which recognize Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway productions.
Years earlier, Cooper had a run-in with the police that made him question his worth in America. He had gone to a 7-Eleven convenience store to buy a Slurpee when an officer made him think twice about his next move.
“I remember reaching upstairs to get a red slushie and the cop over there was pointing his gun and giving me a wink,” Cooper said, recalling the incident happening around the time Alton Sterling and Philando Castile was fatally shot by police in July 2016.
“If black people give so much to this country, why are they considered worthless?” he said he wondered at the time.
Black people have always had “the ability to turn shit into sugar,” Cooper said. So with “Ain’t No Mo” he wanted to spread humor in turbulent times. He described the play as a “love letter to black culture”.
Cooper wanted to create a space for black Americans — and not one that was necessarily palatable to other races.
“Black people were dragged into this country, stripped of their identities, and had to build our culture of sticks and stones,” Cooper said. “We need to laugh in the face of our pain and use dark comedy to find the light in those painful moments.”