Flyin’ West: A Poignant Look at an Untold Story

American Blues Theater Presents
Flyin’ West
By Pearl Cleage
Directed by Artistic Affiliate Chuck Smith

October 5 – November 3, 2018

There are a plethora of historical stories about African-Americans not mentioned in the history books or taught to our children. These are amazing narratives about the remarkable achievements Blacks made to shape the course of the United States and the struggles they had to endure, just to taste a little portion of freedom and equality. In the effort to educate our society about these amazing people of color, American Blues Theater brings to the stage “Flyin’ West,” a theatrical masterpiece by Pearl Cleage.

After the end of the Civil War, many former slaves benefited from the opportunity of the Homestead Act to own property and to use that land to support themselves or to develop it and sell it for a profit. Against all the odds and enduring the dirty stain of slavery that was abolished through the Emancipation Proclamation, Blacks fled to a land called Nicodemus, Kansas, a place where abolitionists provided them with freedom and opportunity to purchase 160 free acres of federal land via the Homestead Act of 1862.

Set in the fall of 1898 in Nicodemus, Kansas, where some widowed and unmarried African American female pioneers who were affected by the cruel and hostile environment, left the South and ran their farms and ranches. The play focuses on three sisters and their work in the all-Black town.

Leading the cast is Sophie Washington (Tiffany Oglesby), a strong-willed and independent woman who has two younger sisters–Fannie Dove (Sydney Charles), who is leveled headed and has a very nurturing soul, and Minnie Dove Charles (Tiffany Renee Johnson), the youngest of the three who is the only one married. Minnie has just come back home from London with her husband, Frank Charles (Wardell Julius Clark), who is an uppity mulatto and is passing for White. The cast also includes Miss Leah, whose husband and children died so she also lives with Sophie and Fannie, and the slow-talking yet kind-hearted Wil Parish (Henri Watkins), who is willing to kill to keep peace.

The content in “Flyin’ West” is bold, and the women are fierce, strong and memorable because of what they have endured by leaving the oppressive South in hopes of enjoying the freedom that they were denied.

The levels of complexities are explored as “Flyin’ West” explores pivotal topics from domestic violence, women’s rights, determination, race relations, miscegenation, racial passing, separation, dreams of home ownership, intermarriage between races and freedom.

The emotions run high in “Flyin’ West” as Sophie fights to retain her property and the surrounding land from prospectors with hopes to get other landowners to vote on future developments in Nicodemus instead of selling their land. Things get intense when one member of the family seeks out their own agenda, and plans are made that could destroy years of hard work. It’s a recipe that you don’t want to miss.

Director Chuck Smith has once again brought to the stage an educational work of art with “Flyin’ West.” Similar to his recent play, The Delaney Sisters’ “Having Our Say,” at the Goodman Theatre, that educated and inspired the audience about the history of African-Americans, Smith continues to delight Chicago audiences with his wisdom by introducing us to great theatrical productions that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Playwright Cleage is well known as a best-selling author of a book called “What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day,” which spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and was an Oprah Book Club top pick. When “Flyin’ West” came out in 1994, it was listed as the most produced new play in the country, and its premiere at American Blues Theater gives the audience a taste as to why it received such high praise.

Kudos to American Blues Theater for putting together an excellent educational booklet about Nicodemus, Kansas, female homesteaders and stories featuring Ida B. Wells, conversations from Frederick Douglass and information about Domestic Violence. This Backstage Guide booklet provides the incredible backstory of actual events and truly compliments the play and needs to be shared.

Brenda and Rick McCain

Let’s Play highly recommends “Flyin’ West” at the American Blues Theater!

The cast includes:

Sydney Charles (Fannie Dove)
Wardell Julius Clark (Frank Charles)
Tiffany Renee Johnson (Minnie Dove Charles)
Joslyn Jones (Miss Leah)
Tiffany Oglesby (Sophie Washington)
Henri Watkins (Wil Parish)

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