Stick Fly Brilliant At Calderwood Pavilion

Class, Race and Humor Dramatically Rendered

By: - Feb 24, 2010

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Stick Fly
A play by Lydia Diamond
Directed by Kenny Leon
Produced by the Huntington Theatre Company
At the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Stree, Boston, MA
February 19 through March 21, 2010
Produced in collaboration with Arena Stage, Washington, DC 

Rosie Benton as Kimber, Flip's Caucasian girlfriend
Jason Dirden as Kent, the younger son of the LeVay family
Billy Eugene Jones as "golden boy," elder son Dr. Flip LeVay
Amber Iman as Cheryl, the daughter of the family's maid
Nikkole Salter as Taylor, Kent's girlfriend who comes from a different socioeconomic world than the LeVays
Wendell W. Wright as renowned neurosurgeon and family patriarch Joe LeVay

Production Artists
Scenic Designer David Gallo
Costume Designer Reggie Ray
Lighting Designer Allen Lee
Sound Designer Timothy J. Thompson  
Production Stage Manager Kathryn Most

Good theatre entertains while great theatre entertains, educates and touches our sense of humanity. Stick Fly by playwright Lydia Diamond is a great dramatic experience. Stick Fly is a must see.

The play follows a storyline about the African-American experience in the 21st Century from a very interesting perspective. The verbal and emotional kindling ignites when nonstarter son, Kent LeVay brings Taylor, his fiancée, to his family's well-appointed Martha's Vineyard home to meet his parents for a week-end. There are even Romare Bearden, Jean Michael Basquiat and Jacob Lawrence paintings on the living room's walls, art as cultural backdrop. Taylor, feeling under the microscope and not accustomed to the LeVay's affluent lifestyle, questions the ongoing family dynamic. When Kent's womanizing older much more accomplished brother arrives with his white girlfriend, long buried family secrets are revealed.

This play is at once a funny, moving and poignant portrait of a complex upper class African-American family. The clever narrative traces a look at sibling rivalry and the weight of parental expectations. It is a sophisticated blend of humor and drama, familiar reinforcement and family pain. It is a universal story of family and relationships, parents and children, with a strong seasoning of class, sexuality and race.

Stick Fly is thought-provoking with many laughs and a few cringes. It is a statement to the very human quality of the imperfectability of man. It has a universal resonance. Like all families, there are dramatic moments of good, bad and ugly interpreted by laughter, pensiveness and tears.

Each of the actors does a sensitive portrayal of their individual and often a bit quirky character. Each character represents a distinctive individual and though not stereotypical, a particular type. The complexity of the characterizations is a major strength of the play. We are first introduced to Cheryl (Amber Iman) who is cleaning the house while dancing to her music. This says a lot about her. The youngest of the characters, she acts as the Greek Chorus and conscience to the others. She is substituting for her mother, the longtime LeVay maid and cook, a domestic foundation of the LeVays. A traditional Black church lady, she is sort of a working class downstairs to the upper class family's upstairs. However, Cheryl was sent to a prestigious prep school. Her mother's absence is telling.

Kent (Jason Dirden) is the youngest LeVay son. He is the prodigal child, the one who cannot seem to get his act together in this high achieving household. He is the bane of his father's preferred existence, and yet the favorite of his well-born mother. After trying law school and a graduate program in sociology, in his current incarnation, he is a novelist. His father still puts him down, but his fiance Taylor (Nikkole Salter) appears to really love him. 

However, she has her own issues: lower middle class, rejected by her prominent, World -enown Pulitzer Prize-winning social anthropologist father. A father similar in achievement to the LeVays, but a father who abandoned her and her mother for another family. One of her contradictions is her education, a PhD with a degree from Harvard. She is in a post-doc at Johns Hopkins. There are secrets all over the place among and around all of the characters. The older brother Flip (Billy Eugene Jones) is the father's favorite. Literally a chip off the old block, like his dad, he is a surgeon, plastic surgeon rather than for the brain. Flip is a ladies man, a player, again a chip off the old block. Kimber (Rosie Benton), Flip's Caucasian girlfriend adds racial tension to the mix and brings a certain softening of the edges to the narrative.

The most complex and therefore difficult character is Joe LeVay (Wendell W. Wright), the LeVay patriarch.  He is haughty, imperious and arrogant, quite doctor-like, but with personal quirks. His worldview is distorted, but formed by his experiences. His wife's family, the Whitmores, actually owned the island mansion. An ancestor was a Black ship's captain whose cargo was not mentionable, but whose reward was the prominent land parcel that the house was built on. Dr. Joe LeVay's money paid for the houses renovation, but the house was always Mrs. LeVay's. Ownership, prestige, money, race, class and sexuality are all part of the narrative stew.

Spending their summers on Martha's Vineyard, Stick Fly's LeVay family shares the long upper middle and upper class African-American tradition of Ethel Waters, Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee and even President Barack Obama who have found a unique community on this Massachusetts island.

Martha's Vineyard first African-Americans were a small community that was made up of primarily slaves and indentured servants. The community increased on the island in the late 18th and early 19th centuries as freed and fugitive slaves sought refuge there. These pioneering individuals often worked in the fishing and whaling industries.

In the mid-19th century, both black and white visitors flocked to the island for the Methodist and Baptist revival camp meetings. Their tents were replaced with permanent houses, and the surrounding area developed into a resort community. African-Americans began to build their own neighborhood in the town of Oak Bluffs. 

Following World War II with its economic prosperity, African-Americans began to come to Oak Bluffs to buy and rent summer homes. By 1947, Ebony Magazine reported that "the most exclusive Negro summer colony in the US was at historical Oak Bluffs, a quaint 19th Century village on Martha's Vineyard." This tradition continues today.

Stick Fly's LeVay vacation house is in Edgartown not Oak Bluffs. Property has become more exclusive as demand has increased. Well-educated vacationers who are often leaders in their fields are able to relax on the island in the company of their peers, friends and family, not having to deal with the pressure of representing their race in their workday predominantly white professional circles. 

In setting Stick Fly on Martha's Vineyard, playwright Diamond strategically places the LeVay family in a community of their peers, a luxurious place where the family's disfunctionality is clearly expressed in spite of their wealth. This focused environment calls into question perceptions of race, class and even gender both by the characters and by the audience.

Playwright Lydia R. Diamond is a current Huntington Playwriting Fellow. Diamond's other plays include Voyeurs de Venus, The Bluest Eye, The Gift Horse, Stage Black and Harriet Jacobs which was recently presented at Cambridge's Underground Railway Theatre. Her work has been produced at Arena Stage,The New Victory Theatre, The Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf theatre Company, Long Wharf Theatre, Hartford Stage, L.A. Theatre Works and Company One. She is on the faculty at Boston University.
Stick Fly is elegantly directed by Kenny Leon, the Tony Award nominated Broadway director of a Raisin in the Sun. He most recently directed the highly praised Huntington Theatre production of August Wilson's Fences.

With Stick Fly, it is clear that Lydia Diamond is one of the great emerging theatrical talents of the 21st Century. She captures the cadences, the rhythm and the nuance of contemporary family crisis. Life is not simple, nor is her eloquent narrative. Playwright Diamond is one to watch. This play is an embracing theatrical event. Stick Fly should not be missed. It soon should go on to Broadway.