By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
The Homestead Act of 1862 inspired large groups of former slaves to leave the South following the Civil War and create a number of all-black towns in America's wide-open Midwest and West. Many of those settlers were unmarried or widowed women who operated their own farms and ranches.
Set in 1898, Flyin' West follows three sisters who've struck out on their own and settled in Nicodemus, Kansas. The hardships of freedom and independence are compounded by their struggle to protect themselves from white speculators trying to buy their land and splinter their community. Moreover, the bonds between family and friends are also tested when their mulatto brother-in-law arrives from England, denying his black heritage in favor of pursuing an inheritance from his white father.
Under the direction of John Pryor, the M Ensemble, Florida's oldest black theater troupe, delivers a solid production at its black-box studio in North Miami. Carolyn Johnson steals the show with her charismatic portrayal of Miss Leah, matriarchal neighbor to the three sisters, who are superbly depicted by Laverne Lewis, Carey Hart, and Lela Elam. Chat Atkins plays an affable suitor to one of the sisters, and Ian Lausell is appropriately deplorable as a misguided husband. The family hearth makes for an inviting set design by E. Marcus Smith, and the warmth of the autumn harvest is beautifully interpreted through the lighting design of Apon Nichols.
The role of blacks in America's westward expansion is not widely known. Flyin' West does an admirable job conveying the story, in particular that of the three sisters, who ultimately find in themselves the strength to survive and build a future.