There are few plays about upper-class black American families, and playwright Lydia R. Diamond makes us wish that weren’t the case. Penetrating in ways the Huxtables never even came near, Raleigh Little Theatre production of Stick Fly peels back the humanity and fragility of human beings in the upper strata of life with no reservations about making them real. This family drama is a comedy; and like any good comedy, it also points out the hypocrisies, foibles, and unities that make up almost any kind of family life, highlighting the uniqueness that accompanies educational achievement and wealth, as well as the added experience of color.
The LeVay family’s wealth comes partly from the patriarch’s profession of neurosurgery, but predominantly from his wife’s family (descended from a black ship owner who brought cargo to the New World). They get together in their summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. The two sons of the family have been indulged well. As might be expected, one followed his father into medicine — plastic surgery — and the other has shifted around among law, business, and sociology, but has recently completed work on a novel. Both bring girlfriends along to “meet the family for the first time.”
The mother of the family is not present for this gathering, nor is the usual domestic, who is ill. However, the maid’s daughter, a recently graduated scholarship student at a select high school, on her way to college, fills in for her mother, as she has done before.
Karen Dacons-Brock directs this ensemble piece with a deft touch, allowing actors to bring both life and humanity to their characters and keep the sense of encapsulation among them. As tempers flare, we never expect that someone is simply going to walk out. Each character has her/his own position and fights for it; nobody gives up.
Tosin Olufolabi opens this show with a lively dance to the music from her ear-buds as Cheryl, the fill-in-maid for her ill mother, who is well known to the family, prepares the posh living room for habitation. Olufolabi maintains a quiet self-awareness, as she walks the strange line of being accepted as a kind of part of the family, although she is still merely a maid. She shows her range, with well-contained rage, making an important transition.
Kent, also known as “Spoon” by his fiancée, Taylor, is played by Marcus Zollicoffer, whose angst is palpable; and his reaction to his father’s disapproval and dismissiveness weighs heavily upon him. Zellicoffer makes Kent a very sympathetic soul.
Moriah Williams is spunky and insecure at once as Taylor, outspoken and yet needy for approval, probably from being neglected by her famous father, and having the intellect of a PhD candidate, but no experience with wealth. The strength of her character is aptly displayed.
Harold, the older son, nicknamed “Flip,” is shown by TJ Swann as an indolent, privileged young man, polished and charming, with a penchant for flexing some “street cred”, and the ability to learn important life lessons from the action in which he is embedded.
Thomasi McDonald gives Joe LeVay a pretension to intellectual aristocracy that shows the desperate insecurity beneath his medical and wealthy demeanor. Always the “patriarch,” he loses his façade when a skeleton in his closet begins to rattle.
Kimber, Flip’s girlfriend, delightfully brings a new dimension into the family gathering. Amy White makes her upper-class character very at home in the lush surroundings; but soon discovers that despite her occupation — teaching in underprivileged urban schools — does not adequately prepare her for Taylor’s experiences in the world.
Scenic and lighting designer Arthur Reese uses the three-quarters-arena setting, with a different wall than we are accustomed to as the upstage area. There is no doubt about the financial circumstances of the people who live in this comfortable and large summer home. A separating wall, with an arch between the kitchen and living room, is honored by having private conversations in one room while people are in the other. A Tiffany chandelier hangs in the kitchen, and a crystal one in the living room. The walls are decorated by famous paintings that we never get to see, but Taylor makes us aware of the painters who did them. It is a very satisfying set.
Stick Fly is also a very satisfying play, which will also leave you with much to discuss on the way home.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/stick-fly-provocatively-probes-fractures-of-class-and-gender-in-a-wealthy-black-family/Content?oid=4984460 and Jan. 13th mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/stick-fly/Event?oid=4537567; Jan. 18th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article55301565.html; Jan. 7th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow preview by Beth Mann: http://artsnownc.com/2016/01/07/photos-stick-fly-preview-hayti-heritage-center/ and Jan. 4th preview by Mike Williams: http://artsnownc.com/2016/01/04/raleigh-little-theatre-presents/; Jan. 6th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Karen Dacons-Brock, dramaturg Akiva Fox, and actors Moriah Williams and Marcus Zollicoffer, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/stick-fly-family-secrets-and-lesser-known-culture-marthas-vineyard#stream/0; and Jan. 6th Raleigh, NC WRAL interview with director Karen Dacons-Brock: http://www.wral.com/news/local/video/15217460.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents STICK FLY at 8 p.m. Jan. 21-23, 3 p.m. Jan. 24, 8 p.m. Jan. 28-30, and 3 p.m. Jan. 31 in its Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors 62+). BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/stickfly.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/1636438509954740/.
2015-16 SEASON: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/15-16/index.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24th, performance.
NOTE 3: There will be American Sign Language interpretation at the show’s 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 28th, performance.
Stick Fly (2011 Broadway play): http://stickflybroadway.com/ (official Broadway website), http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/9798/stick-fly (Samuel French), and http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/490502 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: https://www.arenastage.org/education/education-programs/student-study-guides/09-10/Arena-Stage-study-guide-stickfly.pdf (Arena Stage in Washington, DC).
Lydia R. Diamond (playwright): http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/490504 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_R._Diamond (Wikipedia).
Karen Dacons-Brock (director): http://nsvt.woodmr.net/karen-dacons-brock (NSVT: Theatre in the Carolinas & Virginia bio).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.