Flyin’ West at Westport Playhouse & FILM: Solo- A Star Wars Story

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater and film critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Today you get two reviews! First up- Westport Playhouse has revived a mid-1990’s play called ‘Flyin’West,’ written by Pearl Cleage and directed by Seret Scott. ‘Flyin’ West’ opens Westport Country Playhouse’s season and runs through June 16th.

Set in Kansas in 1898, the drama tells the story of a family of black women settler land owners – what they left behind, what freedom means to them and what they will do to remain free.

 l to r: Keona Welch, Brittany Bradford, Nikiya Mathis

The cast of six has dramatically different personalities, which are portrayed well by both the writer, Cleage, as well as the actors. Nikiya Mathis plays older sister, Sophie, who seems to have a chip on her shoulder- as well as an always-handy shotgun.

 Brittany Bradford, Edward O’Blenis

Brittany Bradford plays Fannie, the sweet, optimistic middle sister. Her romantic interest, named Wil, is played earnestly by Edward O’Blenis. He is one of only two male characters in the play- and he is the good guy, as is made crystal clear early on when he states the right way to treat a woman.

Wil’s character is in stark contrast to that of Frank, who we meet late in Act 1.

Frank is one of the nastiest characters I have seen on the stage in a long time. Frank is so clearly the “bad guy” here- on several levels- that I was surprised I didn’t hear boos and hisses every time his character, played by Michael Chenevert, entered a scene.

 Keona Welch, Michael Chenevert

Frank is the husband of younger sister Minnie, played by Keona Welch as the naive, vulnerable newlywed.

Luckily, Minnie has her sisters and their matriarch, Miss Leah (played winningly by Brenda Pressley, who also adds some needed levity to the proceedings) to take care of her.

That they protect her is no surprise. You can see it coming even before the end of Act 1. How they protect her, though, has a fine twist to it provided by Miss Leah.

The play, under Seret Scott’s direction, starts off slowly, meanderingly introducing us to the characters and unhurriedly establishing their relationships. But, when Frank and Minnie enter in the middle of Act 1, the conflict finally starts to take shape and the play gets more interesting as the dramatic tension builds.

 Keona Welch, Brenda Pressley; Flyin’ West photos by C. Rosegg

‘Flyin’ West’ overcomes its slow start and some heavy handedness on the character of Frank by delivering a powerful Act 2 and I give it 3-1/2 stars out of 5. It runs at Westport Playhouse through June 16th.

Next- the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie is ‘Solo- A Star Wars Story.’ It’s directed by Ron Howard, the talented director whose career has included ‘Splash,’ ‘A Beautiful Mind’ and ‘Apollo 13,’ to name just a few.

He comes to this project with a full set of expectations on what he has to deliver- built up by over 40 years of Star Wars movies, and all its fans.

 Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Joonas Suotamo as Chewy; vulture.com

Overall, Howard delivers. This is a good movie that serves as a prequel to ‘Star Wars 4- A New Hope’ and it follows the trademark features of that first Star Wars movie: the over-the-top evil villains, the colorful aliens in a bar scene, Han Solo’s risky flying maneuvers to elude the Empire’s tie fighters- and it introduces us to how Han meets Chewbacca and Lando Calrissian- the Billy Dee Williams character, here well played by Donald Glover.

 Donald Glover as Lando; uproxx.com

Written by Lawrence and son Jonathan Kasden, it captures the spirit of the Star Wars movies but suffers from a few lulls and the burden of Alden Ehrenreich trying to fill the impossible-to-fill shoes of Harrison Ford.

‘Solo- A Star Wars Story’ is still a fun movie that capably provides the back story of Han Solo and I give it 3-1/2 stars out of 5.

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews. This is Ed Katz talking movies and theater for WICC 600!”

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