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

throughout,

Fly prepares his "mind, body and spirit" by performing a

series

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

preachiness,

nor is it dominated by the "rage of 400 years of oppression."

Although there are the expected pot-shots at uptight whites,

"Fly"

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

finding

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

relieved

of his duties.) Perhaps Edward panders a bit when he extols the

virtues

of children learning discipline via a good ass-whipping as opposed

to the current trend, inspired by Dr. Spock, of issuing a "time

out."

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

powers

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

playwright

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

occasionally

seems forced, as when he puts the chant of "black is

beautiful"

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

awkward

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

general

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

Fly, Passage Theater Company , Mill Hill Playhouse,

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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