Stick Fly

by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Kenny Leon
Featuring Condola Rashad, Tracie Thoms, Rosie Benton
Cort Theatre, 238 West 48th Street
December 8, 2011 — open
production web site

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
November 25, 2011 [preview] & January 3, 2012

(L-R) Tracie Thoms, Dule Hill. Image by Sara Krulwich.

A play by a playwright I grew to know as a Chicago artist, now based in Boston, kept me warm and engaged for a third time at the Cort Theatre this week.  I first saw Lydia Diamond‘s Stick Fly in winter 2010 Boston in the Huntington Theatre’s joint production with Arena Stage (same actors, same set, different cities).  I saw the current Broadway production in previews. This third viewing, with the current ensemble nestled into their roles and a structure ticking along like clockwork with little emotional time bombs going off at regular intervals (to which my audience expressed verbal and consistent engagement — groans to laughs to surprise), inspires me to respond verbally.  These women are stunning, the men (characters and actors) contribute framing devices, the class and race discussions are vibrant, the story provocative and artfully crafted.  And then we have the splendid, funny, rock solid performance of Condola Rashad. (I awoke this morning to see an interview with Ms.  Rashad and reflections on her stunning stage presence and skills in yesterday’s New York Times.  Talent just resonates.  Takes your breath away.)

This story is a gentle constellation of three women at the core, two mothers offstage, and men who move around them in the LeVay family summer home on Martha’s Vineyard in 2005.  We come upon Cheryl (Ms. Rashad) bustling about un-sheeting the furniture, preparing for the family visitors in the vacation home that has been in the matriarch’s family for several generations.  Cheryl has grown up in the households of this well-to-do family and is standing in for her mother, the family maid of several decades, who is ill with a recently diagnosed cancer and perhaps the secret she has set her daughter to discover this weekend.  Soon to arrive are younger son Kent (Dule Hill) and his girlfriend Taylor (Tracie Thoms), who are full of young love, gentle worries about whether-parents-will-like-me and omnipresent feelings of younger-son inadequacy.  (This younger son has several graduate degrees and has a book of fiction at the publishers, so let’s not cry for him.)  Older brother Harold (Mekhi Phifer) arrives before his girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton).  Dad Joe (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) arrives without mom, and the plot that ensues, full of humor and conversation about race (oh yes, five characters are black and one, Kimber, is white) and class and privilege and negotiating it all in America.

The men provide the framing devices — sons pairing with their father, or not, playing out their roles as parental favorites, father acknowledging his own past deeds.  Past relationships, past liaisons, past encounters haunt this play in various ways, and the joy of the journey is in part feeling these revelations along with the characters.  It is the women who animate and enthrall in this piece. Tracie Thoms’ beautiful Taylor who has known both brothers, is a first daughter of a famous academic who acknowledged only his second family, and has lived well-educated but not as part of the one percent. Rosie Benton’s Kimber who holds her own in a family of hyper successful individuals who may have darker skin but share so many other attributes. And luminous, funny, sometimes righteous, pivotal, and enchanting Condola Rashad.

Lydia Diamond’s script is well-made and articulate and expository. The set by David Gallo perfectly captures (as did the set used at the Huntington and the Arena a few years ago) a solid, long used, well-worn family summer home, several playing areas, and a believable outside patio.  Lighting by Beverly Emmons frames and allows intimate and large moments.  And interscenic original music by producer Alicia Keys sets moods, threads scenes efficiently, and establishes tone deliciously.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 5, 2012)

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