Friday, June 8, 2018

CT Theater Review: Flyin' West -- Westport Country Playhouse

L-R:  Brittany Bradford, Michael Chenevert, Keona Welch, Edward O’Blenis, Brenda Pressley, and Nikiya Mathis. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Flyin' West
By Pearl Cleage
Directed by Seret Scott
Westport Country Playhouse
Through June 16

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A wonderfully written play by Pearl Cleage, which debuted more than a quarter of a century ago and is set in set in 1898, but contains a message of the human spirit that is right at home in 2018.

A group of close-knit women has embraced a new life in the all-black community of Nicodemus, Kansas. Fanny Dove (Brittany Bradford), Sophie Washington (Nikiya Mathis) and Minnie Dove Charles (Keona Welch) are all sisters, bound by their trip to freedom in Kansas after suffering hardship and prejudice in Memphis. For their matriarch, Miss Leah (Brenda Pressley) the concept of freedom is one she has acquired. The memories and cruelty of being a slave, where she was used for breeding and saw 10 children sold into bondage, are still fresh. The group is reunited when Minnie and her husband, Frank (Michael Chenevert) arrive from London for a visit. They also welcome Will Parish (Edward O'Blenis), their neighbor and Fannie's suitor,  to their fold. Happiness turns to alarm, however, when the harsh realities of Minnie and Frank's relationship emerge and when he threatens to sell the couple's portion of the homestead to white land speculators.

What Are the Highlights?
It's an excellent play with excellent performances, lovingly directed by Seret Scott. The women are developed and distinct: Sophie's follow-the-rules attitude is a contrast to Fannie's sweet optimism. Their fierce love for Minnie is evident and Miss Leah applies a wisdom acquired through the years to affect a solution. Frank and Will are contrasts as well: the former a selfish, abusive man and the latter who makes the object of his affection feel loved and honored.

What Are the Lowlights?
None for the production itself, which is one of the best I have seen at Westport. The violence and prejudice these women have experienced is hard to take, however, especially when they refer to them as matter-of-factly as one might in recounting a trip to the grocery store. Something that is part if life and expected. It's chilling, but written is such a moving way that the audience feels a part of the women's story. Let's just say that there is mirth and support when Frank gets what is coming to him.

More information:
Flyin’ West" plants itself in our hearts at Westport Country Playhouse, 20 Powers Court, Westport, through June 16. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm., Thursday and Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 3 and 8 pm. and Sunday at 3 pm. Single tickets start at $30: westportplayhouse.org, 203-227-4177.

Cleage is an Atlanta-based writer whose work has won commercial acceptance and critical praise in several genres. She is an award-winning playwright of a dozen works including Blues for an Alabama Sky. She is also a bestselling author whose first novel, “What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day,” was an Oprah Book Club pick and spent nine weeks on The New York Times bestseller list.

The design team includes Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, scenic design; Heidi Leigh Hanson, costume design; Stephen Strawbridge, lighting design; and Frederick Kennedy, sound design.

Open Captions (June 10), Backstage Pass (June 13), Playhouse Happy Hour (June 14), and Thursday TalkBack (June 14). 

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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