FORT WORTH Talking a kid out of a tree has never been so entertaining.
At first glance, Flight, the play that opened at Jubilee Theatre on Friday, looks like a sad and repugnant tale. A female slave, Sadie, is abruptly sold after she is caught reading. Her young son, Lil Jim, shinnies up a tall tree in his confusion and grief, refusing to come down despite the pleas of four distraught grownups.
But, despite the grimness of its premise, this text (and this production) refuses to become mired in its own misery. There is a constant undercurrent of pain, but that ache is soothed by the sense of hope that buoys these characters. They look up into the branches and tell Lil Jim several of the stories and legends they have brought with them from Africa, for it is in these stories that the slaves find their will to go on.
This beautifully crafted script is by Charlayne Woodard, author of Pretty Fire, which was so well presented by Jubilee last season. It is a consistently charming blend of storytelling, rhythm and poetry that, despite the main themes, is not without its moments of humor.
This production, deftly directed by Jubilee artistic director Tre Garrett, brims with creative energy. The cast is led by Michele Rene as Oh Beah, the alpha female who is especially in touch with the groups collective past. She is superbly supported by Stormi Demerson (Alma), Brandon Burrell (Ezra), Nadine Marissa (Mercy) and Trinton Williams (Nate). All the players handle their individual moments in the spotlight and their ensemble work with equal aplomb. Their efforts are nicely accented with some on-stage percussion work by Aaron Petite and a well-crafted sound design by David Lanza.
Because the script and production are both so polished, it makes it easier to fully grasp what this show is really about. For while it is certainly about the horrors and injustices of slavery, it is even more concerned with the grander issue of how mankind has always used myths and legends to understand and cope with the harshest of realities. Without ever hitting us over the head with it, Flight is primarily concerned with how all of us use art in our lives sometimes for entertainment and sometimes for survival.
This tidy show (it runs a breathless 75 minutes) crams a lot into its slight frame. It touches your heart with its tales of human suffering and renews your strength with its celebration of the human spirit. Lil Jim is still exploring his options, but this show just might bring you down from whatever tree you may find yourself in.