“Listen” chants a chorus of five performers, “step into the light, and tell your story” they continue accompanied by the steady backbeat of a lone drummer. The audience leans in, paying rapt attention, waiting to hear another tale spun out of the imaginations of this group of artists. Chrlayne Woodard’s Flight is the play and Jubilee Theatre is the venue for this experiential journey of sight and sound that warms the soul.
Director Tre Garrett and company are able to tap into the timeless transformative power of theater using elements of music, characterization, atmosphere, and the mystical and spiritual powers of “the old religion” embedded in Woodard’s play.
Flight marks the first foray of Jubilee’s 32nd season after a stupendous 31st that included such standouts as Topdog/Underdog, Broke-ology, and Woodard’s own Pretty Fire to name a few. I am happy to say that they maintain that high benchmark with this incredible production.
It is 1858 Georgia and a young mother has just been sold to another plantation owner, leaving her husband Nate (a powerful Trinton Williams), and five-year-old son Lil Jim (Ernest Scott in a voice over). The distraught little boy climbs high up a tree, and soon his father and four other slaves try to coax him down with folk tales and familial anecdotes. It is an expression of joy amidst sorrow that is not just a balm for the little one.
The whole ensemble does a fantastic job of weaving stories in and out of the present, and near and far pasts. There is Alma (Stormi Demerson) who is an adept at different voices. Oh Beah (a commanding Michele Rene) whose mother was a healer, and so is she. Ezra (Brandon Burrell who always brings it) is the blacksmith and voice of reason and the versatile Nadine Marissa plays Mercy.
The drummer (Aaron Petite) also becomes a part of the magical atmosphere with his vivid chorus-like beats. Speaking of atmosphere, the design team of Michael Pettigrew (set design and technical direction), Nikki Deshea (lighting design), and David Lanza (sound design) have fashioned an effective set of rocks and hanging foliage covered in Spanish moss, sun-dappled leaf shadows, and the natural and effective sounds of neighing horses, child’s cries, and ever-present music of crickets and cicadas.
Garrett points to a Psalm verse in his “Director’s Notes” that reads “Weeping may endure for a night but joy comes in the morning.” Jubilee has delivered both weeping and joy simultaneously for the best kind of drama day or night. Listen.