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Black airmen fight for freedom and civil rights in the powerful play 'Fly'

 See the heroism of this high-flying group in 'Fly' at Ford's Theatre in Washington.
Scott Suchman
Visit the Photo Place

Date published: 10/4/2012



So the German prisoners of war could sit downstairs in the movie theater, but the black airmen, wearing their country's uniform, had to sit in the balcony?

I was outraged when I learned this during a recent visit to the Colleton Museum in Walterboro, S.C. The famed Tuskegee Airmen had received advanced combat training at the nearby Walterboro Army Air Field during World War II, and the museum has a fairly extensive exhibit about them.

I guess this white Yankee is still pretty naive about the depth of racial injustice in this country.

Those men had to claw their way into flight training in the first place and were subjected to much stricter tests than their white counterparts before they got their wings. That they proved their excellence is now part of history.

Trey Ellis and Ricardo Khan have built "Fly" on the experiences of those pioneering black aviators. The subject makes for good theater.

In some ways the play adheres to standard combat drama rules--four guys from different backgrounds come together, bond during hardship and go out to complete their mission. But these guys aren't just fighting the Germans; they're fighting their own countrymen for respect.

As a training officer says to one of the men who fails the program, "This isn't 'The Wizard of Oz.' There are no flying monkeys."

In a vivid emphasis, the Tap Griot (Omar Edwards) expresses the cadets' collective rage and frustration with his flying feet.

The four men bring different points of view to the endeavor. Chet Simpkins (Christopher Wilson) comes from Harlem. He's the youngest of the group, without the others' college education, but he's also the only one who's already a licensed pilot.

W.W. (Eric Berryman) is a slick Chicago player who is looking for pilot's wings to impress women.

Oscar (Mark Hairston) is all about race. "Anything for my people," he says, more than once. He's the requisite Midwest farmboy.

J. Allen (Damian Thompson) is from the West Indies, Jamaica by his accent. He is a surrogate for his father, who is fascinated by airplanes.

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What: "Fly" Where: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW, Washington When: Through Oct. 21 Cost: $28-$62 Info: 800/982-2787; fords.org