THE PEOPLE COULD FLY, Walkabout Theater Company, at the Vittum Theater. Stephan Mazurek directs an ensemble of six performers who exhort the audience to listen to Loren Crawford’s collection of short stories and fables, insisting that stories such as these kept people alive: drawn from West African folklore, they were passed on by generations of slaves in the American south. Comic or entrancing tales that explain why a catfish or a spider looks the way it does appear alongside stories about the trickster Br’er Rabbit and clever slaves outwitting their masters. Vaune Blalock and Paul Cotton of Muntu Dance Theatre enhance the experience with exuberant choreography and lush West African music.
However, Crawford’s attempt to educate young audiences about slavery through these stories isn’t always successful: they often end abruptly or lack a clear moral lesson. And though seeing people working in the field, their shadows stretched out by James Clotfelter’s expressive lighting, or driven to the ground by the abuses they list is effective, the narratives themselves can appear unrelated to the issue of slavery. Instead of telling us that stories set the slaves free, this show should let us see the joyful release and resiliency these tales encouraged.