Theater Review: Flyin’ West—A journey to freedom at Chicago’s Court Theatre

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117571368115741.jpg’, ‘Photo by michael Brosilow’, ‘Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Miss Leah and Monét Butler as Minnie.‘);

Almost 10 years ago, NAT’s production of Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West gave me the opportunity to relate a contemporary playwright’s work to a collection of American black folktales as told by Virginia Hamilton. Quoting from that review, “A common theme in African tales is that of flight to escape an intolerable situation. The double meaning of escape and actually rising into the air becomes inseparable. The disappearance of a slave was explained by the power of magic against the master.”

Set in the late 1880s, the story of four women escaping the intolerance of “Jim Crow” in Memphis to homestead in an all-black town of Nicodemus, Kans., is one of determination and female independence. Cheryl Lynn Bruce is Miss Leah, the crotchety grandmother sitting in her rocking chair, seemingly unable to move without help, but when Fannie (Tyla Abercrumbie) returns with her abusive husband Frank (Brandon Miller), she becomes a tower of strength. Frank’s denial of his blackness creates an untenable situation, and Fannie suffers the consequences.

TaRon Patton starred in Congo Square’s recent production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. That role centered on the nurturing, caring wife and friend to her boarders. As Sophie, she is the epitome of strength. Often clad in male attire and carrying her trusty rifle, she literally rules the house. No one crosses her. Monet Butler is Minnie, always willing to compromise, and Greg Holliman’s Wil supports this female household as a good neighbor.

Court Theatre was founded 35 years ago on the campus of the University of Chicago, evolving into one of the finest theaters in the city. Mounting a series of eclectic productions, it provides its audiences with classics, comedies and fine drama.

Under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, the cast of Flyin’ West performs a complicated and often humorous work to perfection. There isn’t a dull moment. The intimate space intensifies the drama. The authentic homestead designed by Jack Magaw includes every detail from an old cook stove to the pump in the yard. Ray Nardelli and Joshua Horvath’s original score with its emphasis on violin and cello is almost hypnotic. It gives us the feel of winds on the prairie.

Playing through April 8, the theater is located at 5535 S. Ellis Ave. There is free parking in a facility next door. Tickets can be purchased by calling (773) 753-4472 or online at It’s well worth the trip.

from the April 4-10, 2007, issue

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