FLIGHTby Charlayne Woodard
Directed by Tre Garrett
George Donaldson - Assistant Director
Ashley Oliver - Stage Manager
Set Design - Michael Pettigrew
Lighting Design - Nikki Deshea
Sound Design - David Lanza
Costume Design - Barbara O'Donoghue
Choreographer - Renita Smith
Drummer - Aaron Petite
Oh Beah - Michele Rene
Nate - Trinton Williams
Mercy - Nadine Marissa
Ezra - Brandon Burrell
Alma - Stormi Demerson
Lil Jim Voice - Ernest Scott
Reviewed Performance: 9/28/2012
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Charlayne Woodard became a favorite playwright of mine with her last play at Jubilee Theatre, Pretty Fire. Flight is the last in her play series and its part of Jubilee's outstanding new season. Once again, Tre Garrett directs a production that clicks on all cylinders. Flight is the story of the slave community on the plantation where Sadie was sold, leaving her husband Nate and son Lil Jim alone and afraid. Devastated by their loss, their community rises up and comforts them and it's the efforts of the community that form the story for Flight. The drama is about the horror all slaves endured but the message of this story comes from how the slaves survived, the stories they told of people long ago and how they endured. This message opens a gateway to our own human experience.
Flight is a mixture of stories, dance, songs, and old-time spiritualism which, history tells us, many slaves used to survive their living conditions. History tells us these are also influences of Southern religion, blues, jazz, and rock and roll. These events and these stories are part of America's soul.
Jubilee's production crew turns their small space into an environment that completely encompasses the story they tell. With a set designed by Michael Pettigrew, lighting by Nikki Deshea, and sound by David Lanza, we leave the noisy streets of Sundance Square and enter a forest campfire in 1858. It's like an impressionist painting which envelopes the audience in the atmosphere of the time and place.
The audience and stage is tightly integrated as a dark camp site in hues of tan, gray and brown, appearing like quarry stone. Tree branches loom over the stage and audience like weeping willows and large boulders surround a circular fire pit. Like the tree-covered back roads of Louisiana, the environment is dark and foreboding. Deshea pricks this atmosphere with small washes of blue light and tiny rays of bright light streaming through the trees. This seems to be a camp fire set away from the Big House where slaves could spend their nights calling to their spirits and telling stories of the old country. Lanza provides sounds that pierce a sound track of old harmonica and fiddle, music composed by Karl Lundeberg for this play. The set, lights, and sounds are so tightly meshed that we are drawn instantly under their influence.
Part of the sound track comes from Drummer, an actor onstage who says nothing, but punctuates the action with a beat of African rhythms. Aaron Petite is an integral part of the story, adding to the potency of each moment.
Actors are dressed in plantation clothing as we've seen in many books and films. Barbara O'Donoghue provides a range of earthy colors and textures that compliment the setting.
Woodard creates characters which live in the 1858 story of Nate and Lil Jim, but those characters also dramatically reenact stories from African traditions, like story tellers of ancient times. Small dances fill the night, simple, yet poignant, choreographed by Renita Smith. The stories, songs and dances unite the community, calming the young husband and reassuring Lil Jim.
Nate is brash, impulsive, and impetuous. Trinton Williams makes him hot-headed, ready to take on the plantation owner and the injustices of the world with his little machete. Lil Jim is never seen, though we briefly hear him thanks to the voice of Ernest Scott. We do see evidence of him through the play, evidence that he is very near the audience.
Oh Beah is the spiritual leader and main storyteller of the community. Michele Rene uses a powerfully strong voice and presence to imbue Oh Beah with a sense of natural leadership, calming the community, lifting their spirits, reminding them of the truths of life, promising them better days. She's supported by Ezra, the old blacksmith.
Brandon Burrell gives Ezra the underpinnings of a man who has lived through much and learned how to survive. Rene and Burrell unfold the lives of Oh Beah and Ezra, showing a wisdom and assuredness that can only come from age.
Stormi Demerson as Alma the cook and Nadine Marissa as Mercy create the younger members of the community, young enough to understand the anguish of Nate and the fear of Lil Jim, but old enough to remember their African elders. Demerson and Marissa play their main characters and also act out numerous other characters in the reenacted stories, changing posture, voice and style as needed. In fact, Oh Beah, Ezra and Nate also play out the stories and we are allowed to slip through past and present seamlessly. It's one of the great treats of Flight.
What ties this together is Woodard's script and Tre Garrett's direction. We never lose track of who an actor portrays, whether they're a slave or acting out God and The Devil. Garrett ties the ensemble together, places them comfortably in this setting and links them tightly to Woodard's script so that the1858 story and the tales from ancient times become a unified performance to carry the power of the message.
"Listen to the heart." This refrain comes through the community's storytelling. Yet the ancient stories also delight. There's great laughter here and that allows their pain and suffering to evolve into a larger message. We've heard that phrase a lot as we've grown as a society. We learn about life through our experience and intellect but we discover the truth through the heart.
Some theaters become known for their consistent delivery of fine acting, skillful production, and powerful stories. Jubilee Theatre is one of those. Flight will either encourage your spirit to soar or reveal that "you are meant to tell stories about those who do." Give your heart this magical experience. It will touch you.
Jubilee Theatre, 506 Main Street, Fort Worth, Texas 76102
Runs through October 21st
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $25.00 Friday and Saturday evenings.
Tickets are $15.00 Thursday, Saturday and Sunday matinee.
For information and tickets, go to www.jubileetheatre.org or call their box office at 817-338-4411.