Written by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Kenny Leon
Plays about wealthy and secretive African-American families used to be a rarity on Broadway, but the commercial successes of Fences
, A Raisin in The Sun
and, most recently, The Mountaintop
have proven that there is a large black audience for such fare. Enter Lydia R. Diamond's Stick Fly
(through April 8), which is a solid albeit over-written drama that provides audiences with juicy, but contrived plot points.
The lively dramedy takes place in the LeVay family's massive Martha's Vineyard summer home over the course of a few days. Sparks fly as layered discussions of race and class set off already testy personalities and bring old injuries to the surface.
Brothers Kent (Dulé Hill) and Flip LeVay (Mekhi Phifer) are bringing home their respective significant others to meet the family for the first time. Kent is the first to arrive at the house with his girlfriend Taylor (Traci Thoms) who, having grown up lower middle-class, hasn't yet come into contact with such wealth and is floored by the palatial estate. Taylor is also an entomologist and the play gets its namesake from the way she observes the common house fly. The title's significance isn't overtly addressed in the text, but rather inferred. The way she traps the fly in honey and places it in a glass jar to observe its movements is analogous to the scrutinizing lens Diamond uses to understand her characters' motivations.
Flip arrives next, but without his lady friend Kimber (Rosie Benton) in order to alert his family that she is "Italian" or "melanin-challenged." When Kimber arrives the next day she's all WASP, but teaches in inner-city schools. Her background of privilege makes her more of a fit with the LeVays than Taylor.
Although Taylor's father was an accomplished academic, he left her and her mother to fend for themselves while he started another life with a new family. This opened doors for Taylor in terms of her education, but she grew up saddled with daddy issues. She is uncomfortable around 18-year-old Cheryl (Condola Rashad), the daughter of the LeVays' long-time housekeeper, who has become ill. Cheryl has taken over domestic duties for the wealthy clan and is a much-needed objective voice in the midst of the drama, though she soon finds herself in the middle of a struggle that turns her whole existence on its head.
Dr. LeVay (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is the last of the lot to arrive. A neurosurgeon whose demeanor gives away his arrogant detachment as he expertly deflects questions concerning his wife's mysterious absence from the family gathering.
While, the production digs deep into socioeconomic divides, the twists are ones that the audience can see coming a mile away. The obviousness of the big reveal means the play never reaches the apex of dramatic tension that it might have.
The play has its soaring moments, though, thanks to an exceptional performance by Condola Rashad. The daughter of actress Phylicia Rashad gives a graceful and funny performance and possesses a natural ease that stands in contrast to the effortful work of some of her colleagues. Rosie Benton and Traci Thoms are both sharp and witty, and have affecting moments.
Alicia Keys, who is a producer of the show, also wrote the music for it, which adds without distracting from the telling of the story. The production seeks to show that wealthy African-Americans can be just as self-absorbed and disconnected as their white counterparts. However, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, the characters and therefore the story develop little throughout the play, and Stick Fly
remains exactly where it started—stuck.
(Photo: Richard Termine)