The captivating play Flight takes place on a plantation outside Georgia in 1858. Five-year-old Jim is separated from his mother when she is sold to a different family. She is being punished for reading to her son, defying the law that wanted the slaves to remain illiterate. Not knowing how else to cope with the trauma, the boy climbs a tree out in the woods and hides between the branches. How can the disempowered community help the stubborn boy who refuses to climb down the tree and help his devastated father who is ready to shed blood in revenge?
The healer Oh Beah, played by the talented Latonya Kitchen, uses the magical power of stories to transform and entertain the family and the rest of the community. The slaves are more than just victims. Their spines are bent under the boots of oppression, but human connections and art help the community to practice resilience. The law has broken up families and has banned reading and writing, but it can never take away the stories from them.
This form of resistance is not unique to slaves. In fact, before Prozac, communal storytelling was a major cure for depression. Like blacks, we stateless Kurds– whose land is divided between Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq– have relied on oral storytelling, music and dance to survive and resist tyranny. Archetypal stories that pass from one generation to the next illuminate conflict so true to humankind that they transcend time and space.
The story-within-a-story Flight, written by Charlayne Woodard, combines slave narratives and African and African-American folktales. The anecdotes, like life itself, include horror and beauty. They help the shocked father and son, as well as the rest of the community members who have suffered from similar events, to understand that life on this planet the way we know it contains both light and dark, pain and joy.
Sets and props are simple and subtle in this no-intermission 90-minute play.
Directed by Rovin Jay at Long Beach Playhouse, Flight does not rely solely on storytelling, mythology and good acting to attract the audience. The production applies dance, fog and haze, pulsing light effects, live drumming and singing to make Flight an experience that shakes up something inside the viewers.
Flight continues at Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through June 16, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $14- $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.