Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Stick Fly"

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note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Carl A. Rossi


by Lydia R. Diamond
directed by Kenny Leon

Taylor … Nikkole Salter
Kent (Spoon) … Jason Dirden
Cheryl … Amber Iman
Flip … Billy Eugene Jones
Joe LeVay … Wendell W. Wright
Kimber … Rosie Benton

Due to popular demand, the Huntington Theatre has extended its run of Lydia R. Diamond’s STICK FLY, an entertaining comedy-drama about an affluent African-American family in their Martha’s Vineyard home-away-from-home. “Entertaining” in the old-fashioned sense: one setting, throughout (handsomely designed and detailed by David Gallo) and with well-defined characters who never once turn to the audience to explain themselves but, instead, let their humor and anger flow through fourth-wall wisecracks and confrontations --- as expected with old-fashioned-written plays, the more successful the stage-family, the louder its closet-skeletons will rattle, and if the raison d’être is a party or reunion, blood and counter-blood will soon be drawn, and STICK FLY is no exception: the two sons have brought their fiancées to the Vineyard to meet their parents (the matriarch never arrives for ambiguous reasons): Kent (a/k/a Spoon), the younger son, after years of trying to find himself, hopes to succeed as a novelist to the disapproval of his father Joe, a neurosurgeon --- Spoon’s fiancée is Taylor, a friendly yet resentful scientist from a lower-income, single-parent upbringing (the play’s title comes from Taylor’s experiments with bugs); Flip, the elder son, is a successful plastic-surgeon cut from his father’s cloth --- his fiancée is the WASP-y Kimber (running joke: “Is she white?” “No, she’s Italian.”). Joe, the patriarch, carries a forty-year grudge over his never fitting into his wife’s high-stepping society (thus, their Vineyard home will never be in his name); Cheryl, the daughter of the family’s island-maid, fills in for her ailing parent and cracks wise, Florence-style.

There are tensions between surgeon-father and novelist-son, between brothers over their women, between fiancées on racism, between lovers over fidelity and commitment, and between employer and employee; again, entertaining --- no: very entertaining, awash with humor and some dramatic stunners, yet STICK FLY sadly disappoints when Ms. Diamond shifts from major to minor key in the eleven o’clock hour: Cheryl becomes the sudden focus, and Ms. Diamond gets herself as well as her characters so deep in over their heads that I wondered how she could wrap it all up without sending at least one character upstairs to commit suicide: Ms. Diamond then passes from social-playwright to apologetic hostess, making certain that six differing grievances are correctly aired and balanced which only serves to neutralize all that has gone before it, and ending with a buh-dump-BUMP of a curtain-line. On the night I attended, the predominantly white Huntington audience ate it all up, eagerly laughing on cue (“why, they’re just like us!”) and meekly swallowing STICK FLY’s barbs at their own race (“yes, we deserve it”), mirroring Taylor’s crack about how whenever her author-father told the white race it was full of crap, he would get another award --- a far cry from the girl-gangs of BREATH BOOM that rattled white Huntington audiences several seasons ago; STICK FLY is keeping them soothed in their seats, very nicely.

Kenny Leon has directed a spring-tight production which runs down only when Ms. Diamond’s writing softens at the end, and the queen bees win out over the drones: Nikkole Salter’s motor-mouth Taylor seamlessly amuses or rankles without shifting gears, Amber Iman is insistently likeable as Cheryl, and Rosie Benton brings a French vanilla-drollness to Kimber, a role that could have been cast and played as yet another pallid, neurotic, yet still desirable blonde.

"Stick Fly" (19 February-28 March)
Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 266-0800

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