The Essential Theatre celebrates Theatre Week 2022 with special pay-what-you-can performances of A Night with Jackie “Moms” Mabley, September 23 to October 9 at Anacostia Arts Center. The Helen Hayes Award-nominated comedy cabaret is an honorific evening of zingers about everything from sexuality to racism written and performed by Charisma Wooten, featuring Pianist Everett P. Williams, Jr. as Luther.
Loretta Mary Aiken — better known by her stage name, Jackie “Moms” Mabley — endured sexual, racial, and political oppression while paving the way for many of the women actors we enjoy today. A Night With Jackie “Moms” Mabley was a 1996 Helen Hayes Award nominee for the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play. The show is “a night of zingers, anecdotes, history and entertainment for music and comedy lovers of all ages,” wrote DC Theater Arts reviewer William Powell praising a 2017 performance.
A Night With Jackie “Moms” Mabley plays September 23 to October 9, 2022, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 4 pm presented by The Essential Theatre performing at Anacostia Arts Center, 1231 Good Hope Rd SE, Washington, DC. Pay-what-you-can tickets are available at the box office one hour before each performance. Advance tickets ($33) are available online. Happy hour begins one hour before the show.
COVID Safety: Masks are required.
About “Moms” Mabley
Loretta Mary Aiken (March 19, 1894 – May 23, 1975), known by her stage name Jackie “Moms” Mabley, was an American standup comedian. A veteran of the Chitlin’ circuit of African American vaudeville, she later appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
Loretta Mary Aiken was born in Brevard, North Carolina, on March 19, 1894, to James Aiken and Mary Smith, who married on May 21, 1891, in Transylvania County, North Carolina. She was one of a family of 16 children. Her father owned and operated several businesses, while her mother kept house and took in boarders. Her father, a volunteer fireman, died when a fire engine exploded when Loretta was eleven. In 1910, her mother took over their primary business, a general store. She was run over by a truck while coming home from church on Christmas Day.
By age 14, Mabley had been raped twice and had two children who were given up for adoption. At age 14, Mabley ran away to Cleveland, Ohio, joining a traveling vaudeville show, where she sang and entertained.
She took her stage name, Jackie Mabley, from an early boyfriend, commenting to Ebony magazine in a 1970s interview that he had taken so much from her, it was the least she could do to take his name. Later she became known as “Moms” because she was indeed a “Mom” to many other comedians on the circuit in the 1950s and 1960s. She came out as a lesbian at the age of twenty-seven, becoming one of the first openly gay comedians.
During the 1920s and 1930s, she appeared in androgynous clothing (as she did in the film version of The Emperor Jones with Paul Robeson) and recorded several of her early “lesbian stand-up” routines. Mabley was one of the top women doing stand-up in her heyday, eventually recording more than 20 albums of comedy routines. She appeared in movies, on television, and in clubs.
Mabley was one of the most successful entertainers of the Chitlin’ circuit, earning $10,000 a week at Harlem’s Apollo Theater at the height of her career. She made her New York City debut at Connie’s Inn in Harlem. In the 1960s, she became known to a broader audience, playing Carnegie Hall in 1962, and making a number of network TV appearances, particularly her multiple appearances on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour when that CBS show was number one on television in the late 1960s, which introduced her to a whole new Boomer audience.
Mabley was billed as “The Funniest Woman in the World.” She tackled topics too edgy for many other comics of the time, including racism. One of her regular themes was a romantic interest in handsome young men rather than old “washed-up geezers,” and she got away with it courtesy of her stage persona, where she appeared as a toothless, bedraggled woman in a house dress and floppy hat. She also added the occasional satirical song to her jokes, and her (completely serious and melancholy) cover version of “Abraham, Martin and John” hit #35 on the Billboard Hot 100 on July 19, 1969. At 75 years old, “Moms” Mabley became the oldest living person ever to have a U.S. Top 40 hit (Louis Armstrong, who would have been 86 when “What a Wonderful World” became a hit in 1988, is the oldest overall, although Armstrong was younger than Mabley when the song was recorded).
Mabley had six children: Bonnie, Christine, Charles, and Yvonne Ailey, and two given up for adoption when she was a teenager. She died from heart failure in White Plains, New York, on May 23, 1975. She is interred at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.
About the Artists
Charisma Wooten was born in North Carolina and raised in Morocco, Europe, and the United States. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland. She wrote her first play when she was in 7th grade and has never stopped. She has performed as a featured soloist in Germany and France in such works as The Messiah and The Seven Last Words of Christ. She has also performed as a background vocalist with such artists as Philip Bailey, Deniece Williams, Bernard Mavritte, Myrna Summers, Albertina Walker, and Aretha Franklin to name a few. She has performed with jazz notables Marshall Keys, Beverly Cosham, Lawrence Wheatly, and Stef Scaggiari. As an actor, she has performed in works ranging from Macbeth to Aint Misbehavin and The Wiz. Many of Charisma’s plays have premiered at the National Theatre in Washington, DC: The Old Landmark, Carries Dream, and Abishag: A Song of Solomon. A veteran actor/singer/playwright, she has toured throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa. She has performed at the University of Maryland’s Scott Gliner Center for Humor Studies, the historic Karamu Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Blues Alley, Charlies Georgetown, The Marquee Lounge, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Corcoran Gallery, Source Theatre, Studio Theatre, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Washington Performing Arts Society, and is currently enjoying a 10-year-run at Germanos Cabaret Theatre in Baltimore, MD. She was nominated by the Washington Area Music Award for a WAMMIE as Best Cabaret Theatre Artist in 2011 and is a member of several choral societies, soloist at several Washington, DC, churches, a member of the Central Maryland Chorale, and a member of the choir and Ministerial Staff of Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ.
Everett P. Williams, Jr. has a Bachelor of Performance and a Masters Degree in Music Education from Oberlin University, Ohio. He is a past performer/accompanist with Voices, Inc. (a Harlem-based Theatre Repertoire Company). He recently retired from the Montgomery County Public School System as a Music Educator and is now Adjunct Professor of Piano at Bowie State University. He is Director of Music and Liturgical Arts at Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington, DC.
The Essential Theatre Mission and Vision
The Essential Theatre, celebrating its 33rd year, is a nonprofit, professional theater dedicated but not limited to producing theater reflecting the African American experience that explores and celebrates America’s rich, diverse cultural landscape. Paramount to the theater’s mission is the implementation of programs for youth in Washington, DC’s metropolitan area to promote interdisciplinary education. Founded in 1989, the company hosts a Children’s Program in Public Schools–Young Audience Program, a New Play Reading Series, and the Women’s Works Program. The company also maintains a relationship with community-based organizations to better align programs for community resonance.
The Essential Theatre’s vision is to enhance the quality of life in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region through targeted outreach strategies that are inclusive utilizing institutional comprehensive programming. We believe that live theater performances should be a regular experience for residents regardless of socioeconomic status. Therefore, addressing economic barriers preventing access to quality professional theater is partial to our mission-critical work. Providing free and pay-what-you-can tickets as well as offering humanities programming to stimulate transitional thinking and building long-term patron support is chief among our vision strategies. For more info visit theessentialtheatre.org or contact (202) 328-0569.
‘A Night with Jackie Moms Mabley’ at Germano’s Piattini (review by William Powell, March 19, 2017)