Westport Country Playhouse: On opening night, Westport audiences whistled and cheered for the cast of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West currently on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse. It was a fine production, but having seen this performed at Long Wharf some years ago, that production still lingers on, while Westport’s production doesn’t fly quite as high.
The play focuses on four black women who envision an all-black community. They acquired land thanks to a Homestead Act and discourage white speculators from buying their fertile Nicodemus land. There are three sisters: Fannie (Brittany Bradford), Sophie (Nikiya Mathis), and Minnie (Keona Welch). Minnie is married to Frank Charles (Michael Chenevert), a light- skinned mulatto man. He’s an arrogant poet who resents his thoroughly black wife and his own blackness. When the two sisters living in Kansas give Minnie the rights to a piece of property, Frank is determined to sell it to a white man. Adding insult to injury, he abuses pregnant Minnie. The sisters as well as Miss Leah (Brenda Pressley), the matriarch of the family cannot abide such behavior, nor can Wil Parish (Edward O’Blenis) who is sweet on Fannie.
While Sophie, the boldest of the sisters is determined to kill Frank with her ever ready rifle, and Wil offering to do it man to man, Miss Leah has a far more delectable idea. She bakes a very special apple pie that just happens to be spiced with a rather mysterious ingredient.
Directed by Seret Scott, the pace is slow in the first act. Throughout, the humor is not as prevalent in this production, although the audience found it pretty funny when everyone wanted to kill Frank. Some audience members shouted “shoot him” as Sophie aimed her rifle at him. This is a strong ensemble and the acting is very good, although the characters here seem rather stereotypical. Nonetheless, this is a post-Civil War drama that speaks volumes today. It is an eye opener when it comes to understanding the importance of freedom for one and for all.
Marjorie Bradley Kellogg’s scenic design is a gorgeous rendering a 1890s homestead farmhouse complete with center stone fireplace. Heidi Leigh Hanson’s costumes are quite appropriate for the characters presented, especially Frank’s dapper English gentleman attire and Minnie’s stunning velvet outfit. Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting design spotlights the highs and lows of the action, while Frederick Kennedy’s sound design including the arrival of the train at the station is spot on.
The production plays through June 16. Box office: 203-227-4177.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.