No need to finagle an invite to the LeVay family’s handsomely appointed summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. Just get a ticket to Everyman Theatre’s deliciously enjoyable production of Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly, kick back and savor this household’s unique blend of hospitality and dysfunction.
Miss Diamond’s searing adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel “The Bluest Eye” blew D.C. audiences away at Theater Alliance a few seasons back. With Stick Fly, she moves from the systemic poverty, racism and incest depicted in The Bluest Eye to racism and class struggles set in comfier climes. For the African American LeVay family is well-heeled and composed of high achievers who discuss race and privilege while sipping chilled white wine and playing board games in a living room that features Romare Bearden art on the walls. They even have a black housekeeper, the unseen Miss Ellie, whose willful and wounded daughter Cheryl (Shannon Dorsey) is filling in as cook and butler while her mother recovers from an undisclosed illness.
The loyal housekeeper is not the only character missing. Mrs. LeVay, the wealthy member of the first black family to own property on Martha’s Vineyard, is also suspiciously absent, but her esteemed neurosurgeon husband Joe (David Emerson Toney), is keeping his buttoned-down lips buttoned up for the moment. Lowering the estrogen quotient down to a bare minimum in this play allows Miss Diamond to focus on her theme of fathers—neglectful fathers, overshadowing fathers, even an upper class twist on the game “Who’s Your Daddy?”
Joe LeVay is playing host to his adult sons and their love interests for the weekend. First to arrive are his younger son Kent (Kevin McAllister), a career tourist who has finally settled on being a novelist, and fiancée Taylor (Erika Rose), a wound-tight entomologist who would rather study bugs under a microscope than examine the psychic hurts left by her father, a famous sociologist and writer who shucked his wife and daughter for a second family and never looked back. Joining them are oldest son Flip (Kevin Jiggetts), a plastic surgeon who seems a chip off the old block in terms of preening and macho prowess, and his girlfriend Kimber (Kaytie Morris), an inner city teacher.
By the way, Kimber is white—a fact Flip tries to soft-pedal by describing her as Italian, as if Mediterranean stock is less of an affront than WASP. Flip is busted, however, when Joe is introduced to Kimber and burbles something charming in faultless Italian—much to her bafflement.
Amid lobster dinners, boating and Prada, the inhabitants soon show their true colors. Joe reverts to his habit of belittling and berating Kent, while Flip alternates between defending his baby brother and undermining his attempts at happiness. Taylor desperately tries to fit in the posh environment while society babe Kimber is at ease to the manor born. All the while, Cheryl simmers in the background, itching to spill a secret that will rock the family dynamics forever.
In its breezy humor and depiction of a sparring but devoted wealthy African American family, Stick Fly reminds you of Charles Randolph-Wright’s play Blue and both shows were produced at Arena Stage in Washington. Assuredly directed by Vincent M. Lancisi, Everyman’s Stick Fly is more relaxed and natural than the Arena Stage production from last year. Like a weekend at a beach house, the show just unfolds at its own seemingly unplanned pace and is richer and funnier as a result.
One shining example occurs during a tipsy after-dinner game of Scrabble, which starts off light and comic but then abruptly veers off into uncharted territory when Taylor unleashes a long bottled-up diatribe about skin color and lowered expectations after getting fed up with Kimber pontificating forth on race relations. The show’s mood turns on a dime, but Miss Rose and Miss Morris are so adept and well grounded in their characters there is not one false note or jarring lurch.
In fact, Miss Morris’ Kimber is much more than a never-ending visual pun—she lets Kimber’s decency and intelligence shine through. Similarly, Miss Rose gives Taylor, a character who could be nothing beyond a real pill, unexpected dimension and quirky warmth—her discomfort at being in the LeVay’s world is palpable and something most of the audience can relate to and her attempts to be at home are both endearing and chafing. As the housekeeper, Miss Dorsey’s Cheryl watches what’s going on with a gimlet eye and her reactions to the familial fireworks and rampant selfishness are alone worth the price of admission.
The men are exceptional as well, with Mr. Tomey playing Joe to the hilt as someone who routinely and unapologetically takes up all the space in a room. Mr. McAllister plays Kent as a sensitive man with values—in a play full of bad fathers, he seems like excellent Dad material—and shows that he is made of finer stuff than the punching bag his family perceives him to be. Flip possesses just enough swagger to make him attractive and troubling, as Mr. Jiggetts’ allows us to look beneath the successful posture to see a boy afraid to grow up.
Stick Fly is set in a world of privilege, but the play centers on what’s lacking. With the exception of larger-than-life patriarch Joe, all the characters are trying so hard to be looked at and listened to. They need their daddies for recognition and for healing, but they haven’t yet figured out how to parent themselves—to be the father they never had.
Stick Fly runs thru April 17, 2011 at Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD.
This show is selling out. As of this writing, there are only 7 performances with tickets available.
by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Vincent Lancisi
Produced by Everyman Theatre
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Running time: 2 hours and 35 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission