Out Front Theatre Company is presenting the Southeast regional premiere of Harrison David Rivers’ play “When Last We Flew,” directed by J. L. Reed, running through April 2.
In the current comedy/drama, both a coming-of-age and coming out story, Paul (A. J. Thomson) is a Black teenager who finds solace and sustenance by locking himself in the bathroom and reading “Angels in America,” which he has purloined from the school library. It transports him far from the small Kansas town where he lives, and his mixture of enthusiasm, angst, and dream searching becomes infectious—with both his friends and the audience.
His mother, Marian (Jasmine Thomas), does not share his enthusiasm and tries to lure him out of the bathroom with her famous pancakes. It doesn’t work, at first. Both mother and son are strong, determined personalities with good but impatient hearts.
Meanwhile, Ian (Lu Vijil), Paul’s best friend, also has a crush on Paul, and he calls him persistently via cellphone. Ian laments to the audience, “The worst thing in the world is to love someone who only sees you as a friend.” Nevertheless, Paul and Ian have a bond that grows, and these two young actors have a certain chemistry which is endearing.
Across town we find the feisty Natalie (Ebony Jerry), the sole Black student at an exclusive private school. She’s been drafted to sing a song for the MLK Holiday, but she is displeased with this “request,” and let’s just say things don’t go well at the performance. Both the principal and Natalie’s mother are quite distressed. Ms. Jerry gives a totally winning, vibrant performance.
And there are various angels who make appearances, the most vivid of which is a crash through the ceiling of Paul’s bathroom. So yes, there is some magical realism in “When Last We Flew”; but like the play itself, it is girded by a good-natured sense of gentleness and humor.
As Director Reed says, “The play reminds us that despite the darkness in or around our lives, angels abound.” And as Hannah in “Angels in America” says, “An angel is just a belief, with wings and arms that can carry you. It’s naught to be afraid of.” The people in “When Last We Flew” may be perplexed and frustrated, but they are not fearful.
By the way, actors Dalyla McGee and Evan Hill Phillips splendidly play angels and other characters—most impressively.
Dramaturg Daria Dozier comments that playwright Rivers “uses an abstract, episodic plot structure to craft the story of “When Last We Flew” which beautifully imagines the intersectionality of blackness and queerness.” I agree, and it does this easily and lucidly, and never becomes pedantic.
This play was the 2010 winner of the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Off-Off Broadway play. Upon leaving the theatre, a friend remarked to me, “This is the little play that could.” Yes, it is. Taking its inspiration from the titanic “Angels in America,” it exudes charm, insight, and inspiration. It deserves an audience.
Tickets and information at outfronttheatre.com.