The Homestead Act of 1860 offered 320 acres of free land to U.S. citizens willing to settle in the western states. Based in part on actual journal entries, Flyin' West highlights the struggles of black homesteaders who, following the advice of charismatic leader Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, took advantage of the Act to flee the racism and oppression of the South. Cleage gives us a glimpse of the tribulations faced by freed slaves even after the abolition of slavery, and of the quarter of a million unmarried or widowed black women who moved west to escape a white male-dominated world.
“The play is a work of fiction, but Nicodemus is a real place and the story is inspired by historical fact,” says McClain. “These settlers were running away from the lawlessness and the lynchings of Jim Crow. Back in the cities, they were starting to lose some of the freedoms they had grown accustomed to during Reconstruction. Many didn’t realize until they got to Kansas just how rough it was going to be. It had been painted as the promised land by Pap Singleton. They were seeking a black Utopia.”
Flyin’ West runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., March 14 through April 6. Two preview performances take place on Wednesday, March 12 and Thursday, March 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42 on Thursdays and $47 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, except opening night (March 14) for which tickets are $52 and includes a post-performance reception with the actors. International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, CA 90802. For reservations and information, call the ICT Box Office at 562-436-4610