Stick Fly

Lydia R. Diamond
Cort Theatre, New York
(2012)

It is almost worth making a special trip to New York, so enchanting is Stick Fly. Lydia R. Diamond has written a play that could practically be viewed as the African-American equivalent of Tracy Letts’s August Osage County, though it hasn’t quite the same complexity.

Set in 2005, this is one of those family dramas that becomes a skeleton fest as they pile out of cupboards after years of secrecy and guilt.

While this can be the stuff of soap opera and melodrama, Miss Diamond is a cannier writer than that and ensures that she gets to the hearts of every one of her six characters during the 2½ hours playing time.

The publicity can be misleading, as soul diva Alicia Keys is credited both as a producer and composer. However, while her incidental music is welcome, this is no musical.

The LeVay family is as affluent and intelligent as it gets. They live in New England occupying an over-stuffed Martha’s Vineyard mansion packed with detail by scenic designer, David Gallo.

Dad Joe, played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, is one cool dude, a neurologist with a great sense of humour but strangely, during the weekend break in the house that his wife inherited, without her.

The first couple that we meet are his younger son Spoon / Kent (these boys have names galore) and his new fiancée Taylor. Dulé Hill as the former is the family failure, having dropped out of the law to become a novelist, while Tracie Thoms plays his lady love, a super-bright entomologist with attitude.

Older brother Mekhi Phifer’s Flip / Harold is a chip off the old block, but, rather than brains, works on breasts as a plastic surgeon. His new girl, Rosie Benton playing Kimber, is White, spicing up the weekend not only by her presence but also thanks to her academic discipline through a knowledge of racial issues second to none even in this company.

This is one bright extended family group able to debate, if not always agree on, any subject worth talking about, though race and gender issues normally rise to the top of the pile when the talk gets serious.

Even the maid seems headed for great things though she is only 18. Cheryl has inherited the job from her ailing mother and, during a break before heading to university, takes it ultra-seriously. Indeed, so central is she to the family’s affairs that in a really strong cast, Condola Rashad (who has acting in her blood) constantly threatens to steal the honours.

Having set the scene for a party that starts out like many a well-made drawing room play from England half a century ago, Lydia R. Diamond and her director Kenny Leon take us to some places completely unknown to the English middle classes of the 1940s and 1950s.

The young couples soon start to jostle for personal supremacy and joust over intellectual issues. They also discover that sex is prone to rear its ugly head in this household rather more than it should in polite society. Soon, it becomes the catalyst for mental warfare, before threatening the equanimity not only of the house party but the LeVay dynasty itself.

If all of this sounds worthy and serious, don’t worry. There is a great deal of humour to leaven the anguish in a play that really should cross the Atlantic as it will delight British audiences as much as those on Broadway.

If you are planning a trip to New York in the near future, don’t miss Stick Fly. If not, pray that it gets to a theatre near you some time soon.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher