Sassy and uplifting both describe the new production of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West at Theatre in the Square. With the theater needing a hit to raise its profile, this show fits the bill with its stellar cast and moving script.
While the setting of the story is in Kansas, the play is at home in a southern theater. Like the works of William Faulkner or Fannie Flagg, the play breaks stereotypes and presents strong, heroic characters and universal themes. Just as much dramatic as it is hilarious, Cleage’s dialogue finds the perfect balance to make an entertaining and thought provoking story. Set in the 1898 Kansas, the women in the play are pioneers who moved out west to gain freedom from the Jim Crow South. They have found a home in Nicodemus , Kansas which is an all African American settlement. Their peaceful existence here is being threatened by “white speculators” and other forces.
As the feisty bastion of wisdom Miss Leah, Donna Biscoe once again proves that she is one of Atlanta’s finest actresses. She commands the stage and quickly becomes an audience favorite with her one-liners. It is her dramatic scenes, however, that will leave you most impressed. The emotion and pain she displays when talking about her past are powerful and memorable.
Marguerite Hannah is wonderful as the independent Sophie, the leader of the group. She embodies the character and makes her literally come alive on stage. If this was the world premiere of the play, you would think that Cleage wrote the role just for her.
As Fannie Dove, Cynthia D. Barker creates a delightful character. Her warmth and optimism brighten each scene. Together with Wil Parish (E. Roger Mitchell), the two create a powerful foil to the tumultuous relationship of Minnie (Joy Brunson) and Frank (Nadir Mateen). Both tender and idealistic, Brunson’s Minnie instantly earns the audiences compassion and empathy.
Under the direction of Melissa Foulger, a carefully crafted story emerges, one that moves from hilarity to seriousness with ease. Whether the cast is making an apple pie recipe that is to die for or traveling to the town, the visuals of the play are engaging and not distracting.
Both acts of the play have several places where they seem to end. This situation provides one of the only drawbacks of the production. Audience members seem to have thought the first blackout was the intermission, evident by the enthusiastic applause. As the many long blackouts after high emotional scenes continued, the audience applause began to lessen, and the intensity of it was noticeably tame by the time intermission occurred.
One of Atlanta’s must see productions, Flyin’ West plays at Theatre in the Square through April 8.The show runs for two and half hours with an intermission. For tickets and more information, please call 770-422-8369 or visit the theater’s website.