Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the February 28,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Fly’ at Passage
Early on in Passage Theater Company’s production of
"Fly," its hero, Fly Lewis, briefly puts on a pair of big
gawky glasses that he had when he was little. These glasses, he tells
us, give him "20/20 vision to the third power." They’re so
strong that they allow him to see spirits and all the people that
he has lost. It is a singularly poetic, yet whimsical moment, and
it gives a good indication of what the next 90 minutes will be like.
Written and performed by Joseph Edward, "Fly" is mostly comic
but partly somber. It tells the story of a black man on a Brooklyn
rooftop seeking a spiritual awakening. Addressing the audience
Fly prepares his "mind, body and spirit" by performing a
of rituals intended to cleanse his soul. He is also visited by the
spirits of some of the people whom he has loved and lost in his life
and intersperses this with his musings on his own difficulties of
performing such mundane tasks as riding the subway at rush hour (in
which guerrilla tactics are employed by the elderly in pursuit of
a seat), the frustrations of a black man getting a cab in midtown
Manhattan, and his personal distaste for chicken.
Edward’s rendition of the black male experience steers clear of
nor is it dominated by the "rage of 400 years of oppression."
Although there are the expected pot-shots at uptight whites,
is a play fueled by hope rather than anger and it is largely a light
piece, bolstered by humor, and edged with spiritual trimming.
Very funny are his riffs on being a "doo-doo" boy (i.e. being
persecuted as a child for smelling bad) and the difficulties of
a soul-mate (particularly the hazards of being involved with a career
woman with whom he has to make an appointment in order to have sex
with and who ultimately sends him a fax informing him that he is
of his duties.) Perhaps Edward panders a bit when he extols the
of children learning discipline via a good ass-whipping as opposed
to the current trend, inspired by Dr. Spock, of issuing a "time
Edward is a fine comic performer, warm and extremely
physical, and he knows how to get the audience’s attention, whether
it be by stomping out crude dance steps, leading the audience in a
"drum-a-long," or by applying paint to his face. But his
as an actor particularly come to life when portraying the spirits
of Fly Lewis’ past. He avoids campiness by giving characters such
as Uncle Charlie and his Grandma loving subtle details, such as the
seemingly unconscious habit of rubbing her leg as she talks, or the
chronic snort a character gives before each new thought. These details
allow the audience to see these characters as particular people rather
than generalized paper-thin cartoons.
(One note, on this night, perhaps induced by opening night energy,
Edward delivered his lines with the speed of a run-away freight train.
His normal 90 minute show took 75 minutes performance.)
Sometimes, however, Edward is less successful in his role as
than as a performer. Although the play is well structured, with a
comfortable mix of poignancy and humor, the characters on the page
are less well-developed than in performance. For instance, we don’t
learn much of what made Fly’s dead friend Curtis so special to him
other than the fact that Fly keeps telling us how special he was.
Also, Edward’s theme of the power and beauty of being black
seems forced, as when he puts the chant of "black is
onto the lips of the dying Curtis.
Of course, direction in a one-person play is particularly crucial,
and Wynn Handman’s direction is very successful. He is able to give
"Fly" a life that appears natural, despite the seemingly
roadblocks the play itself presents. Fly’s motions and mannerisms
are fluid and believable throughout, despite addressing an audience
that would be, according to the way the play is staged, hovering in
the air. Edward’s multiple shifts in and out of various characters
are always achieved with clarity, without being obvious, and the
tone of sweetly administered earnestness, although sometimes painful,
are lovingly employed. Fly is a man filled with implacable truths,
but he never appears threatening, and this is a crucial component
necessary for the play to work.
Teetering at the edge of a rooftop, Fly Lewis dreams of flying. It
is his belief that on this night a particular spiritual energy will
allow him, if his soul is properly cleansed, to fly. Despite a few
bumps along the runway, "Fly" does fly. It succeeds because
it allows itself to become less a story of political correctness (that
it sometimes threatens to become), and more the story of a man on
a rooftop, cleansing his soul.
— Jack Florek
Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. One-man show
written and performed by Joseph Edward. $20. Continues to March 4.
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