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In the moonlit forest clearing near a Georgia plantation, enslaved men and women make the mythology and folklore of their African and African-American heritage come to life. The tales they tell are aimed at coaxing a small boy, Li’l Jim, down from a tree he has climbed in fear after seeing his mother sold from the plantation.

Story, song, dance, and puppetry merge on stage in Sacramento State’s production of Charlayne Woodard’s FLIGHT, on the main stage of the University Theatre, 6000 J St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Oct. 21-24 and 30; 6:30 p.m. Oct. 28 and 29, and 2 p.m. Oct. 25, 31 and Nov. 1.

Directed by Professor Melinda Wilson Ramey, the Sac State cast has been expanded from previous stagings to create a larger experience.

Scene from FLIGHTCarla Fleming, left, Kenya Hilliard and Joshua Johnson appear in FLIGHT.

“We’ve increased the cast from five to 12, so there are seven people who serve as dancers and puppeteers,” Wilson Ramey says. “We call them the ‘Ancestral Spirits.’ ”

These are the spirits of those who have come before, whether lost during the Middle Passage to America, or sold off the plantation.

“In the course of the story they tell a series of folktales to help calm Li’l Jim’s fears, and to be able to stand up and grow up,” Wilson Ramey says. “It talks a lot about loss, and family, and love.”

While the subject matter may sound somber, Wilson Ramey emphasizes the overall message is a positive one. “There’s a lot of hope,” she says. “There are several moments when it’s light, and it’s very much a family show.”

A couple of notable emeritus professors are coming back to campus to help launch FLIGHT.

Former Theatre and Dance Professor Richard Bay is designing the puppets for stories such as “The Beast of the Land and the Beast of the Sea,” which combines puppetry with dance. And Music Emeritus Professor Deborah Pittman has written original music that will be performed by two live drummers and a flutist on stage.

“And Professor Linda Goodrich, director of Sacramento/Black Art of Dance, is the choreographer, so it’s going to be smoking in terms of movement,” Wilson Ramey says.

The production also will incorporate special effects, such as a fiery, smoking pit used to conjure the spirits participating in the stories.

Joshua Johnson, a second-year student in his first performance at Sacramento State, portrays Nate, the bravest and strongest field hand whose wife, Sadie, Li’l Jim’s mother, is sold. “I try to make a connection with Nate,” Johnson says when asked how he prepares for the role. “I think of how I might feel if my mother or wife was sold. How angry would I feel?”

Carla Fleming, who has worked with S/BAD and in other productions in the area, plays Oh Beah, the matriarch of the community. “She knows each person on the plantation and she knows how to deal with them with a very calming spirit.”

In researching the role, Fleming discovered some of the folktales in FLIGHT were the same stories she had read to her son when he was young.

The production has been a unique experience for Wilson Ramey because of the expanded cast and other added elements. But the end result is a production that keeps moving; that keeps the viewer involved.

“There’s constantly something happening to create this truly magical world,” she says.

Tickets for the 6:30 p.m. performances are $8 general admission and $5 for children. All other performances are $12 general, $10 seniors and students, and $8 for children. Tickets are available at the campus Ticket Office, (916) 278-4323 or www.csus.edu/hornettickets. Group rates also are available.

For more information, visit www.csus.edu/dram or call (916) 278-6368. For media assistance, call Sac State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156. – Craig Koscho