A tribute to stubborn heroism in ‘Black Angels over Tuskegee’ _lowres

Photo by Sue Coflin -- Writer Layan Gray chronicled ‘forgotten American history’ in his play about the struggle of African-Americans to become military aviators.

Typically known for nostalgia, patriotism, romance and the glam of the Greatest Generation, BB’s Stage Door Canteen in the National World War II Museum takes a slightly different tack with the off-Broadway play, “Black Angels Over Tuskegee.”

Now in its seventh season and one of the longest-running productions off-Broadway, the award-winning show will be staged here Friday through Sunday. It tells the story of six men as they battle to become the first black aviators in a 20th-century America divided by racial segregation and Jim Crow.

Tickets are $65, and all shows will offer brunch or dinner service.

“We have the expo ‘Fighting for the Right to Fight’ right now, and it’s Black History Month, so the show ties in perfectly for that,” said the World War II Museum’s Director of Entertainment, Victoria Reed. “It’s not the type of show we usually put in the Canteen, but it’s an important story to be told and support. I’m really proud we’re bringing it to BB’s Stage Door Canteen.”

All those who attend “Black Angels Over Tuskegee” also receive free admission to “Fighting for the Right to Fight,” an exhibit that details African-American experiences and racial discrimination during World War II.

Alexandria, Louisiana, native Layan Gray starting writing the play in 2007 while living in Los Angeles.

After interviewing a Tuskegee airman, he realized he wanted to tell the story of what these men were like behind closed doors, as brothers and comrades.

“That’s information you can’t go online and find out,” Gray said, “what goes on within the nitty-gritty of these men getting to know each other and why they would go and fight for a country that at the time considered them less than men.”

To Gray, this is forgotten American history, and anyone can learn or gain new insights from it.

“Everybody can relate to the underdog and wanting to achieve and prove to everyone and yourself and your family that you can go on, overcome obstacles and achieve excellence,” he said.

But Gray intends to both educate and entertain his audience. He believes this play is intended for anyone, no matter your creed, race, religion or age. He calls it “edu-tainment” because there is a history and information to be gained, but it’s not packaged in a dusty history textbook.

In fact, it’s been known to make the audience cry.

“I at one point had tears running down both of my cheeks,” admitted Reed, who saw the play in New York City. “That doesn’t happen too often when I see a show, so I was completely touched by it. I thought the actors were amazing and really committed to telling the story. I think it was very well written.”

Gray is excited for the show to be performed at the World War II Museum, among the artifacts and the information discussed in the play.

But the return to his home state of Louisiana is especially poignant.

“I’m coming home, and I’ve got a lot of family members coming to see the play. .... Everyone is really, really, really excited. Some of them have never been to New Orleans, so this will be a treat.”