An all-black cast will take the stage at the Indiana Repertory Theater in Pearl Cleage’s Flyin’ West.
The local revival of “Flyin’ West” will kick off the IRT’s 50th Anniversary season and serve as the second of two productions in the theater’s INclusion series: Celebrating Diverse Storytelling. “Flyin’ West,” which originally debuted on IRT in the Midwest in 1994, tells the story of black history, independence, sisterhood and perseverance.
“It feels meaningful to know the context in which we’re performing at this time, even at the Indiana Repertory Theater, which has a dark history of racism and segregation,” says Kayla Mary Jane, who plays the role of Minnie Dove in Charles , said in an email to the recorder. “It’s nice to see that this theater is currently running a show with an all black cast. It’s quite revolutionary.”
Set in the Wild West, Flyin’ West follows the lives of four African American women homesteaders and pioneers who have settled in the all-Black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Throughout the show, the women work together to farm the land and build a better life for themselves and their families against the harsh terrain and deadly threat.
One of the show’s key messages surrounds the idea of the “beautiful nature of black culture to choose a family whether they have blood or not,” Jane said. The power in unity, coming together as a community and finding strength in that, is something that’s still relevant to audiences today, she said.
“They all come from different spaces, from different places; They all have their own past experiences, but they come together and they love and protect each other,” said Enoch King, who plays the role of Will Parish. “It’s what I love about the black community and I love how it’s presented on the show.”
LaKesha Lorene, an Indianapolis-based actress who plays the role of Sophie Washington, the eldest of the three sisters, said many of the other themes in “Flyin’ West” remain relevant regardless of the time. Although the play is set in a time when black communities were enjoying independence and growing power, Lorene said that like Sophie, the black community is striving to achieve “generational wealth” for their families and communities.
“One of the things that strikes me the most is the issue of ownership,” Lorene said in an email to the recorder. “There is so much power in communities that maintain a sense of support, stability and ownership.”
The timing of this show is a little less than coincidence, coming just after Martin Luther King Jr. Day and running into the first week of Black History Month. Jane said she believes Black History Month occurs every month and cannot be limited to just one month – the “shortest of the year”.
Lorene echoed similar sentiments, saying stories like this are important because they help remind black communities of where they come from.
“Black history encompasses more than slavery,” she said, “and for a period of time, in many places across the country, our communities became independent and created infrastructures that could have raised families for generations at a time when freedom was a new concept.” .”
Knowing where you come from helps future generations realize they have seemingly limitless potential when it comes to progressing and pushing boundaries, Lorene said. However, she added that to get there, people have to be willing to show up and support each other.
As the curtain rises on opening night, Lorene said she looks forward to audiences being fully immersed in her world, the Western and the family that sticks together against all odds.
“People can experience it and we can just breathe,” King said, “and let the show breathe and let the show grow and evolve.”
Lorene and King said they hope audiences will go home with some knowledge of the story and feelings of hope after witnessing the power of family and the strength found in community through the actors on stage.
“Flyin’ West” will be shown on the OneAmerica Mainstage at the Indiana Repertory Theater, 140 W. Washington St. through February 4th. The show lasts approximately 2 1/2 hours with a 15 minute intermission. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased on the IRT’s website.
“Flyin’ West” contains strong language and themes, as well as depictions of domestic violence, gun use, smoking and alcohol consumption. IRT recommends this show for viewers in ninth grade and up.
Contact Indianapolis Recorder staff member Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.