Flight at ACT Theatre
The scene of the play is a plantation near Savannah, Georgia, circa 1858, where a slave named Sadie has been sold away from her husband and young son as punishment for being caught teaching others. Her son has literally gone up a tree and so, in the long night that follows Sadie's departure, her husband Nate and fellow slaves Ezra, Mercy, Alma, and Oh Beah tell the child stories and folk tales to coax him back down. The most compelling of the folk tales include one about how a man who represents darkness and a woman who represents light battle for dominance, but end up in a draw, thus creating daytime and nighttime. In another tale, the age old battle of the sexes is given a new spin when, after God gives man superior strength, woman goes to the devil and finds an ingenious way to beat man at his own game. There is a rippling poignancy to the story of two sisters, separated as children and later reunited as one becomes a slave to the other, until the truth shines through. And the story that gives Flight its title also packs an emotional wallop. Woodard's storytelling expertise shines in all of these individual tales, but the segues between them, as the child refuses to come down from the tree, could afford to be rethought and refined a bit.
All eyes are rivetted on Margo Moorer as Oh Beah, even when she is not the focus of the scene, so focused is her portrayal. Tracy Michelle Hughes excels in her spotlight moment when she expresses her guilt over seemingly being the cause of Sadie being sold, and Johnny Lee Davenport as Ezra, the eldest slave, effortlessly balances his role's humorous and dramatic sides. Dawn Frances as Mercy is best showcased opposite Hughes in the tale of the two sisters, and David Brown, Jr. whips up some compassion for Sadie's mournful husband Nate.
The Company executes Kabby Mitchell III's naturalistic choreography well and, rather than rely on period music, the show employs an effective original score by composer Karl Lundberg. In fact, even more music and movement would not be out of place in this piece.
The triumphant set design by Matthew Smucker evokes a Southern plantation setting, dripping with Spanish moss, and is accompanied by Christopher Reay's dreamlike lighting design. Melanie Taylor Burgess' costumes illuminate and never prettify the characters.
Told in just ninety well-paced minutes, Flight is an impressive step in a different direction from anything seen at ACT in recent memory, and also an important step for Charlayne Woodard, playwright.
Flight runs through November 13 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., downtown Seattle. For more information go to the ACT website at www.acttheatre.org.