Theater Review - Back to the West

Director Andrea Frye always thought there was something missing from Flyin’ West, Pearl Cleage’s drama about African-American settlers in 1898 Kansas. Frye saw the play’s 1992 world premiere at the Alliance Theatre and acted in the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s 1993 production. Now she’s excited to put her own stamp on the show for True Colors Theatre Company.

“I have the opportunity to put a character in it I’ve always wanted, the character of Kansas,” says Frye. “Lighting designer Ken Yunker has done a magnificent job of creating the canvas of the Kansas sky and the prairie. When the Alliance first did it, they did it in the studio, so the show was based on story and character. This one’s on the main stage, so it includes more of the spectacle.” Flyin’ West focuses on a group of women from Memphis struggling to make a home in the 19th-century prairie, and Frye feels that some of Cleage’s themes have sharpened since the play’s debut.

“Right now, every discussion about any facet of human life seems to include the phrase ‘after 9/11... .’ In the play, the women fly West from Memphis to escape marauding Klansman, to protect their lives and to be safe. I think the questions ‘What price freedom?’ and ‘What price safety?’ resonate differently now than in 1992.”

True Colors’ production stars the formerly Atlanta-based actress Crystal Fox, who plays hard-edged, no-nonsense Sophie. Frye portrayed the same role for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and she admits she has to restrain her impulse to tell Fox how she did it. “Of course, there’s that impulse - when you inhabit a character, you damn well inhabit a character. But there’s more than one way to get to the same destination, and Crystal’s one of the best actors in the world.”

After its Atlanta run, Flyin’ West plays in Washington, D.C., in September and tours to Macon, Americus and Columbus in October. Frye acknowledges that Flyin’ West differs from the usual touring plays that reach Georgia’s smaller cities. “It’s not Cats, but it’s a funny, sad, glorious story with some fairly wonderful spectacle in it. It may not be what they’re used to seeing, but I think they’ll develop an appetite for it fairly quickly.”

True Colors Theatre Company presents Flyin’ West as part of NBAF on July 17-31 at the Alliance Theatre, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. $28-$50. 404-733-5000.