The best part of enjoying a fresh new show is not only having it meet high expectations, but surprising you with the unexpected. That’s what happened with Flyin’ West at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
You expect to be drawn close to the pioneer homesteaders in the wooden warmth of their rural Kansas home, thanks to a rustic set designed by newcomer Ahna Packard in the close confines of the Howard Drew Theatre. That deal is sealed with the friendly sparring between the oft-scowling Sophie, seldom without a shotgun at the ready, and Miss Leah (Phyllis Mitchell-Butler), the fiesty elder she has sheltered in her home.
The audience takes to Miss Leah’s wisdom and good humor but Sophie (Denise Chapman) tries to resist it before yielding with a big smile and hearty laughter. It’s also easy to find Francesca Hogan’s treatment of the younger, sweeter Fannie and her fondness for Carl Brooks’ strong but gentle neighbor endearing from the outset.
Then enters the villain Frank, played by Chad Cunningham, who brings his wife Minnie, Fannie’s younger sister (Rusheaa Smith-Turner) home for a visit. He’s a mulatto full of self-loathing of his “colored” (the racial identifier of choice in Pearl Cleage’s pay) half, and contemptuous of prairie life in Nicodemus, Kansas, after living in London.
And the unexpected comes in the audience reaction to the arrogant wife-abusing Frank. They don’t quite hiss him, but they cheer when Sophie stands up to him and they even applaud when the women do more than confront him.
Director Susie Baer Collins reminded me before the show that Frank is also a victim. Though he passes as white, he’s rejected by his white father.
That’s true enough but not nearly true enough to make him sympathetic when he beats his wife and tries to steal the land the women love. So let us applaud those members of the audience who fall in love with the good women of Nicodemus and cheer Frank’s downfall.
Two casts of students open productions that we haven’t seen for lately. We know The Wedding Singer as cinema, but director Moira Mangiameli will bring the musical to the Iowa Western Community College stage this weekend, and Creighton University promises a Wild West treatment of Will Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor starting Wednesday, Nov. 2.
Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to firstname.lastname@example.org.