January 19, 2023

Indiana Repertory Theatre showcases diverse storytelling in 'Flyin’ West'

The local revival of “Flyin’ West” will kick off IRT’s 50th anniversary season. - Courtesy of the Indiana Repertory Theatre

The local revival of “Flyin’ West” will kick off IRT’s 50th anniversary season.

Courtesy of the Indiana Repertory Theatre

An all-Black cast is set to take the stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre in Pearl Cleage’s “Flyin’ West.”

The local revival of “Flyin’ West” will kick off IRT’s 50th anniversary season and serve as the second of two productions in the theater’s INclusion Series: Celebrating Diverse Storytelling. Initially debuting in the Midwest at IRT in 1994, “Flyin’ West” tells the story of Black history, independence, sisterhood and perseverance.

“It feels significant in the fact of knowing the context in which we are performing during this time with even being in the Indiana Repertory Theatre, which holds a dark history of racism and segregation,” Kayla Mary Jane, who plays the role of Minnie Dove Charles, said in an email to the Recorder. “It is beautiful to see that this theatre is presently showcasing a show with an all-Black cast. It is quite revolutionary.”

Set in the Old 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 better lives for themselves and their families against the harsh terrain and a deadly threat.

One of the key messages of the show surrounds the idea of the “beautiful nature there is to Black culture of choosing family regardless of being blood or not,” Jane said. The power in unity, coming together as a community and finding strength in that is something she said is still relevant for audiences today.

“They all come from different spaces, different places; they all have their own past experiences, but they come together, and they love on each other and protect each other,” said Enoch King, who plays the role of Will Parish. “It is the thing that I love about the Black community, and I love how it is showcased in the show.”

LaKesha Lorene, an Indianapolis-based actress playing the role of Sophie Washington, the oldest of the three sisters, said regardless of the time, many of the other themes in “Flyin’ West” remain relevant. Even though the play takes place during a time when Black communities had independence and growing power, Lorene said, like Sophie, the Black community strives to achieve “generational wealth” for their families and communities.

“One that sticks out to me most is the theme of ownership,” Lorene said in an email to the Recorder. “There is so much power in communities maintaining a sense of support, stability and ownership.”

The timing of this show is a little less than a 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 is every month and cannot be limited to just one month — the “shortest of the year.”

Lorene echoed similar sentiment and said stories such as this one are important because they help remind Black communities where they came from.

“Black history involves more than slavery,” she said, “and for a period of time, in many places across the country, our communities were becoming independent, creating infrastructures that could have set up 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 progress and breaking boundaries, Lorene said. However, she added that people need to be willing to show up and support each other to get there.

As the curtain rises on opening night, Lorene said she’s looking forward to the audience being fully engulfed in their world, the western and the family that goes against all odds to stick together.

“People get to experience it and we get to just breathe,” King said, “and let the show breathe and let the show grow and evolve.”

Lorene and King said they hope audiences will leave with some knowledge of the history and feelings of hope having witnessed the power of family and the strength that is found within the community through the actors on stage.

“Flyin’ West” is showing on the OneAmerica Mainstage at Indiana Repertory Theatre, 140 W. Washington St., now through Feb. 4. The show is approximately 2 1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased at IRT's website.

“Flyin’ West” contains strong language and themes as well as depictions of domestic violence, gun usage, smoking and alcohol consumption. IRT recommends this show for ninth grade audiences and above.

Contact Indianapolis Recorder staff writer Chloe McGowan at 317-762-7848 or chloegm@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @chloe_mcgowanxx.

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