Set in a Chicago recording studio in 1927, Ma Rainey was Wilson's first major play. This production was directed by Marion McClinton; it stars Whoopi Goldberg as the title character and Charles S. Dutton in a recreation of his original role of the angry trumpet player Levee.
In his TheaterMania review of Ma Rainey, David Finkle wrote: "McClinton's Ma lacks muscle. For one thing, he bobbles Ma Rainey's entrance: The character's high dudgeon should fuel the performance, but Goldberg's entrance is medium dudgeon, and though she gets into her rendition of 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom,' much of her performance isn't so much blues as blahs." Though Finkle expressed the opinion that Dutton is now too old for the part, he added: "Dutton still can still rant, though. Solid as a punching bag, he wrings emotion from the speeches in which he recounts his mother's rape and God's absence during the event." Finkle further stated that "The heroes of this production are Stephen McKinley Henderson, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, and Carl Gordon, so convincing as these diverse musicians that when they mime playing their instruments, they still seem indisputably authentic."