Family Under Glass: Stick Fly
Playwright Lydia R. Diamond is undoubtedly a favorite among actors if her play, "Stick Fly," which received the 2010 LA Drama Critics Circle Award, is any indication. There's not a character that is minor in this play, nor a line that doesn't carry weight. In this comic and tragic, emotional and brainy drama, every role is one to covet.
Diamond also flies in the face of stereotype. As Shirley Jo Finney, director of the Los Angeles production of "Stick Fly" notes in the Everyman Theatre's program notes, "Typically plays about black life focus on a poor family in an urban setting, [but] 'Stick Fly' is about an upper-middle class black family with a vacation home on Martha's Vineyard...[To] the broader mainstream of American society...this is a world most people don't know."
In "Stick Fly," we are introduced to the "mirthfully dysfunctional" Levay family. Patriarch Joe Levay (David Emerson Toney) is a neurosurgeon. His eldest son, Flip (Kevin Jiggetts) is a plastic surgeon, and both men bear the mark of Alpha males, balancing elite-schooled-at-Harvard-status with a man's-man-style bravado, especially when it comes to their relationships with women.
Joe's youngest son, Kent (Kevin S. McAllister , after several aborted career attempts, believes he has found his way a novelist. Kent, nicknamed "Spoon," has arrived at his family's summer home to introduce his fiancée , Taylor (Erika Rose), to his family for the first time.
Flip follows soon after with his girlfriend, Kimber (Kaytie Morris), who is described in the face of concerned looks not as white but "Italian." Rounding out the cast is the soon-off-to-college Cheryl (Shannon A. L. Dorsey) who, along with her mother, has long served as the Levay family "help"-so intimate is Cheryl's relationship with the Levays she is all but family, but the barrier that lies between her and the well-heeled patrons she cares for is always clear and definite...and perhaps should not be.
Diamond is said to have once commented that "Stick Fly" is concerned with the "relationship between fathers" and that is clear, on a variety of levels. Though the daughter of a noted African-American author, Taylor feels rejected by her famous father and the anger she feels fuels her into a number of rants that leave the Levay family befuddled. It's clear they aren't used to having outsiders shake the snowglobe which houses their idyllic world.
Similarly, there's a secret to be learned about Cheryl and her father that raises the question, what does a man owe to a child born of adultery? Doesn't that child, whose circumstances are no fault of her own, deserve recognition, love? But is that possible in a world where appearances and status mean everything?
Then there's the relationship between Kent and Joe; Joe Perceives Kent as a man-child with emphasis on the "child," unable to "man up and find a job"-it's clear that Joe, despite his sense of humor and courtly manners, is no Bill Cosby-Dr. Huxtable clone.
"Stick Fly" is intelligent theater as it gets the audience thinking about a great many things-not just about race, but about class, cultural, and social differences-and does so in a supremely entertaining way. There are no two dimensional characters here. Taylor, for instance, is described as irritating and weird, but is so engaging, one can't help but gravitate toward her.
Taylor likes to collect insects and study them from inside mason jars. She describes how, in order to record the incredibly swift movements of a fly's wings, one simply places the fly on a stick covered with crazy glue. In this play, every character is stick fly, each under the scrutiny of the others, each making judgments, based on preconceived notions, biases, and their own peculiar pasts.
The only danger here is, will such unusual characters be unable to connect with a mainstream audience? Can we relate to such individuals? That's where Cheryl comes in, as she is, to an extent, a reflection of the audience, saying those things in a particularly powerful last act scene that one imagines has been in the mind of most audience members throughout the course of the play.
The Everyman has gathered a seasoned, veteran cast for "Stick Fly," and every actor in the ensemble purports themselves well, particularly Ms. Dorsey as Cheryl who does more than merely act, but becomes her character on stage. The set is nuanced, with all the right touches, from colorful works of African art to New England-style staiNed Glass on the front door.
But perhaps the real star of the production is the Ms. Diamond whose script has one smiling and frowning, musing and pondering, all at the same time. Particularly clever is how Ms. Diamond will have characters at opposite ends of the stage engage in dual conversations that sometimes overlap-is she saying that the relationship Taylor has with Joe is some how reflective of Flip and Kimber's? Are Flip and Joe really made from "the same piece of cloth" as Joe contends?
Good theater keeps one wondering...and "Stick Fly" is certainly that.
"Stick Fly" continues its run at the Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles Street, now through April 17th. For tickets, call 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org.