So I had the pleasure to see Stick Fly with our new Blogger: Joseph Riley Land and let me say what a treat it was. Even more so for me because I didn’t have to worry about writing this review, but I digress. Stick Fly opens tonight, Thursday December 8th 2011 @ the Cort Theatre. Get your tickets now, wether it’s for yourself or as a Holiday gift and I will see you all behind the lights!
Review by Joseph Riley Land:
“I must be seen.” That’s a line from the last scene of playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s searing new Broadway offering, Stick Fly, and it resonates throughout the Cort Theatre. It resonates in my ears, days after seeing the play. It… resonates. In a world where the concept of the nuclear family is shattered, ideas of race, class, identity, love and the infrastructure of the Black Family come into question. The play, which has been dancing around off-Broadway since 2006, is set to open Thursday, December 8, directed by Broadway veteran Kenny Leon (The Mountaintop, Fences).
The opening scene establishes very quickly, and very certainly, that the LeVay family is extremely wealthy. Not nouveau riche; they come from old money and the family continues to do well, with Dr. Joseph LeVay (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) heading the family. His son Flip (Mekhi Phifer in his Broadway debut) is a plastic surgeon and his other son, Kent (Dulé Hill) is… well, well-educated, with numerous degrees under his belt, but no real job to back them up. He does have, however, a finished manuscript for his first novel. It’s a long weekend in the summer of 2005 and the LeVay boys bring their significant others (Rosie Benton playing Flip’s girlfriend Kimber and Tracie Thoms playing Kent’s fiancé Taylor) to visit the family in Martha’s Vineyard. Not Oak Bluffs, the Black enclave in the Vineyard, but the ritzy White side of the island – a point that is driven home to, once again, clarify that these are rich folks. Rounding out the cast is Condola Rashad in the role of Cheryl.
Overall, the cast does an excellent job, working with extremely well-written material. Hill starts out a bit stiff, but as the play progresses, he seems to ease into the rhythm. Phifer, too, at times seems stiff, but seems to have a firmer grasp. Santiago-Hudson plays his role with such ease, one would think he had played Joe LeVay for years, not days. Benton, on the other hand, has played the role of Kimber before and it shows. In what would stereotypically be a formulaic role (she’s the white girlfriend), Benton fleshes out her character, making her quite different than popular culture has taught us to expect from such a role. The heart of the play, however, is the duality of Thoms’ and Rashad’s characters, both outsiders; one trying to fit in and the other not already there. Both women give bravura performances, one hyperactive and the other nuanced.
Race matters are bandied about, but this play is primarily about class and identity. Look no further than the tone used when speaking to Cheryl (the daughter of the family’s long-time maid). Both Joseph and Flip are clear on the hierarchy when addressing her and poor Taylor cannot seem to get it right and comes across condescending even when she thinks she’s trying to be helpful. And, even more clearly, each character clarifies their invisibility, their lack of identity. Joe is living in his wife’s family’s home, and well-aware that it will never be known as “the LeVay House.” Kent could stand on his head and recite the entirety of “Gray’s Anatomy” and his dad wouldn’t care. Taylor’s dad pretty much ignored her from the time she came out of the womb. Cheryl, too, was ignored from childhood. Everyone is trying to find his/her voice. At times the play evokes thoughts of Ellison’s Invisible Man and his struggle for relevance.
It’s refreshing to see a story about a black family that – while still drama-filled and engaging – does not embrace the clichés that have been force-fed to us and now have become the expected. Perry’s Madea would have no place with these characters: they understand the power of nuance. Things that would, in other, less capable hands, be gratuitous or clumsily handled, are dealt with in a deftness that really makes one appreciate the intelligence of the theatre. And, wish that television and film would take notes.
Go see Stick Fly. You will enjoy it. More than likely, it will resonate.