Soaring at Playhouse
Maybe it was the superbly executed story, the performances, or simply the collective non-stop energy emanating from the stage that had Saturday night's full-house, show-me audience so quickly and wholeheartedly enlisted in The Vineyard Playhouse production of "FLY."
The play is a contemporary tribute to World War II Tuskegee Airmen, the distinguished first African American Air Force flying unit formed in 1941 in the country's segregated military.
The production takes on an almost abstract quality as four airmen representing all the Tuskegee Airmen sit in folding chairs in front of projected images of sky and clouds, air skirmishes, and views from a gunnery turret. Much is owed to award-winning choreographer Hope Clarke who uses movement to transform the stage from barracks to battlefield.
Punctuating the scenes and providing pace and tempo is Ted Louis Levy as Tap Griot. As expressive visually as he is audibly, he affectively becomes the soaring plane, the marching drill, the honor guard.
The seasoned cast of airmen - actors Charlie Hudson III, Robert Karma Robinson, Samuel T. Gaines, and Mark Hairston own their characters as elitist, innocent, playboy, family man - and demonstrate how the individuals grow into a tightly knit unit. Each represents a different part of the country, background and ambition, from yes I can, to wanting to be ladies man cool. Still, each sees the Army Air Corps as "the difference between the mud and the stars."
And yes, there's racism: The unit's officers, Capt. O'Hurley (Joe Forbrich) and Col. Snopes (Walker Lewis) expect, almost encourage, failure: "...aviators were the créme de la cremé, not their butlers and chauffeurs."
But the focus is on hope and accomplishment. "If I can dream it, I can be it," says W.W., the playboy from Chicago.
Directed and co-written by Ricardo Khan, the artistic director of Crossroads, a Tony-winning regional theater in New Jersey, "FLY" lightly delivers a full serving of emotions from laughter to disappointment (one candidate washes out) and loss (there are those pilots who lose their lives in battle). Originally commissioned by Lincoln Center, Mr. Kahn and co-writer Trey Ellis, Columbia University professor, commentator, and author, have carefully crafted the heroic story of the all-black pursuit squadron with the perfect balance of history and entertainment.
"FLY," 8 pm, Thur., Fri., Sat., Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Workshop production of new play about heroic Tuskegee Airmen of WWII, by Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan. Continues through July 11. Times, prices vary. vineyardplayhouse.org; 508-696-6300.