Flyin’ West

The Edgewater-based Onyx Theatre Ensemble, one of the most impressive new companies to emerge in the last couple of years, has earned a reputation for well-crafted, interesting productions on African-American themes, including its much-lauded East Texas Hot Links and documentary-style examination of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, Unquestioned Integrity. Next week, as part of the Chicago Park District’s second season of presenting off-Loop theaters at its Theatre on the Lake, the troupe remounts its 1996 rendition of Flyin’ West, Atlanta playwright Pearl Cleage’s enormously entertaining play about ex-slaves in 1890s Kansas. Summer has always been a good time for old-fashioned melodrama, and Flyin’ West delivers the goods–but with an up-to-date perspective, telling of proud black women fighting to save their homestead from the self-hating mulatto husband of the family’s youngest member. Director Ron O.J. Parson’s staging features a rich performance by Paulette McDaniels as the tale-spinning, pie-baking matriarch; the way she and the other ladies dispatch the eminently hissable bad guy is a deliciously funny and suspenseful piece of stagecraft. I won’t spoil the surprise; see it for yourself. Theatre on the Lake, Fullerton and Lake Shore, 312-742-7994. Opens Tuesday, July 29, 8 PM. Through August 2: Wednesday-Saturday, 8 PM. $9.

–Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): theater still (uncredited).