Strong “Flyin’ West” at Falcon
Review by Bryna Chandler
As the final production of their 22-23 “Fill the Space” season, Falcon Theatre does not disappoint. Flyin’ West, fills the intimate theatre with this poignant drama which focuses around freedom and survival.
The Story of Flyin’ West
Set in 1898, Flyin’ West is the story of pioneering African-American sisters who took advantage of The Homestead Act and went West, settling together in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. The backgrounds, actions, and feelings of this 2-act 2-hour play reflect themes of liberty, racism, domestic violence, racial intermarriage, feminism, pride, and determination.
Strong Director and Cast
Under the vision of Director Piper N. Davis and the script by Pearl Cleage, the characters are complex multi-emotional individuals.
“Sister” Sophie Washington (Bryana Bentley) is a leader in the community, in the home, and this production. Bentley’s portrayal of the no-nonsense Sophie changes from stern to vulnerable, soft to loud, as easily as Sophie changes from pants to skirts.
Sister Sophie might rule the house, but Miss Leah (Burgess Byrd) rules the stage. An old woman whose memories of slavery and its aftermath comprise a living oral history, Byrd’s Miss Leah is physically frail, internally strong, and a perfect rendition of everyone’s favorite over-domineering southern grandma.
In contrast, Fannie Dove (Shantel Routt) is the mellow middle sister, trying to civilize the frontier and the family with fine china and flowers. Both Routt’s Fannie and youngest sister Minnie Dove Charles (Kenny Rayborn) can be initially seen as meek, yet both have a hidden strength that shines through.
With such a strong female cast, you might expect the male characters to be either over or underwhelming. Here, Wil Parish (Alfred Gover) and Frank Charles (Jazz McMullen) round out the ensemble, balancing being soft-spoken, abusive, strong, and vulnerable with ease.
Ted Weil, Scenic Designer and Producing Artistic Director, brings the audience into the sisters’ homestead flawlessly, setting the ambiance for this historical drama the minute you walk into the theatre. The realistic set design evokes the feeling of home, regardless how rustic, that the characters earned through their labor, made their own, and are willing to fight for. The fact that Weil captured that feeling of home in such an intimate space speaks to the elevated level of design, creativity, and artistic direction that Falcon Theatre puts into every production.
Though the cast of Flyin’ West might be small, the production team is anything but. Ensuring that every detail and direction stayed true to the heart and the history of the story are Intimacy Coordinator Erin Carr and Stage Combat Choreographer Ted J. Weil. Dramaturg Julie Carpenter reports yes, Nicodemus, Kansas, was the first black community settled west of the Mississippi (and is still around).
Audiences should note, keeping with hardships that came along with early homesteading, Flyin’ West deals with adult content, including domestic violence, lost children, racial conflict, and emotional abuse. This is balanced with a surprising number of funny moments, a great apple pie recipe, a killer “name that tune” soundtrack by Ted J. Weil & Piper N. Davis, and some absolutely beautiful vignettes.
Within the play, Miss Leah regularly says that some stories need to be told; this production of Flyin’ West by Falcon Theatre needs to be seen as the themes portrayed are as important today as they were in the 1800s.
Get Tickets for Flyin’ West
Flyin’ West continues to play Thursday-Saturday through May 27th at Falcon Theatre. The Falcon is in the heart of the Monmouth Street Historic District of Newport, Kentucky. Visit https://falcontheater.net for more information and tickets.
Bryna Chandler has a lifelong love for the stage, being raised in a theatrical family. She attended CCM as well as SIUE for design and dramaturgy. An amateur playwright her work has been performed in OH, CA, NV, and numerous fringe festivals. Her writing and design background led her to marketing, where she is currently the Digital Marketing & Communications Coordinator for the School of Business at UD.