“Flyin’ West” at John Hand Theater is about 4 Black women and their chunk of Kansas prairie


Overlook Leah (Latifah Johnson) delivers words of wisdom in “Flyin’ West”: Now put that in your pipe and smoke it. (Meg Ralph and Soular Radiant Images)

Just how vulnerable the pursuit of contentment could be for Blacks all through Reconstruction is on aching and wry display in Pearl Cleage’s “Flyin’ West.” So, also, is the tenacity of the liberated.

The enjoy, a welcome collaboration in between Firehouse Theater and Aurora’s 5280 Artist Co-Op, is obtaining an engaging creation at the John Hand Theater through May well 7.

At the outset of the enjoy, a bundled figure toting a rifle and carrying a brimmed hat and significant coat strides into a compact homestead on the outskirts of Nicodemus, Kan. That strong individual turns out to be Sophie (Adrienne Martin-Fullwood). Sophie, alongside with Overlook Leah (Latifah Johnson) and Fannie (Kenya Fashaw), have settled a wide swath of land on the outskirts of Nicodemus, because of in section to the Homestead Act.

There is a good deal of natural beauty in this drama — directed by donnie l. betts — and no tiny evaluate of trauma. Fannie and Sophie’s youngest sister, Minnie (YasmineEmani Hunter), comes by educate with partner Frank (Abid Hassan) wearing a hat tilted to deal with her bruised experience.

That she’s been struck riles her sisters and Skip Leah. That Frank is the sort of person who would commit that act and exert management more than Minnie will make the reality that Sophie plans on handing Minnie a deed to a 3rd of the land makes for a incredibly helpful cliffhanger. Will Frank somehow purloin Minnie’s deed? Will he provide her part of the land to a cadre of “white gentlemen” he built friends with on the teach? Will Minnie see the light and stand up to him? And why’s he so dang evil?

“Flyin’ West” pits two biracial characters — or, in the parlance of the time and the perform, “mulattos” — towards each individual other. Actually and figuratively, Sophie and Frank are nemeses, to be positive.

Frank may have his factors for remaining so bitter, so dim — mainly, his currently being so gentle — but his smarminess and violence rapidly put an close to audience empathy. He’s a villain in the twirl-of-mustache perception the root of his ethical affliction is his position as a bastard son of a white enslaver.

The 1995 play tangles with colorism in ways that remain persuasive but also experience formed by the racial identification quandaries circa its initial production.

As Sophie, Martin-Fullwood instructions. Other than staying an admirable frontierswoman, she is also an activist. As a result of much of the enjoy, she is at function on an address she intends to produce to her fellow Black citizens about not offering their house to speculators.

Don Randle completes the in a position and attuned ensemble as Wil, a kindly aw-shuckster who used time in Mexico and has established his cowboy hat on marrying Fannie.

Johnson’s portrayal of pipe-cigarette smoking Miss out on Leah reaches a fulfilling apex when she starts telling a tale of a younger, enslaved lady whose apple pie was a source of delight to her enslaver. (At Sunday’s matinee, the viewers acknowledged how a great deal they appreciated the demonstrate and its proficient ensemble and how significantly Frank had incensed them, showering Hassan’s curtain phone with boos and applause.)

Betts cleverly teases the two meanings of melodrama with “Flyin’ West.” There is the heightened edition, in which on-stage brutality and outsized emotion figure. (Frank is downright dastardly our heroines’ fates cling in the equilibrium.) There is also the authentic feeling of “melodrama” as a tale explained to with tunes. The sisters beautifully belt out the hymn “Walk on By Faith” (organized by Larea Edwards, who composed the play’s primary tunes) Minnie wails her lament, “In the Darkish,” prepared by Hunter.

The director also appreciates his way all-around the tale of Black towns in the West. His shorter documentary, “Dearfield: The Highway Considerably less Traveled” (which aired on Rocky Mountain PBS), recounts the heritage of the very long-long gone Black settlement in Weld County.


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