Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly at PlayMakers Rep Is Thought-Provoking and Entertaining

Stick Fly stars (from left) Jamar Jones, Tori Jewell, and Anthony August, Omolade Wey, and AhDream Smith (photo by HuthPhoto)
Stick Fly stars (L-R) Jamar Jones, Tori Jewell, Anthony August, Omolade Wey, & AhDream Smith (photo by HuthPhoto)

For New York audiences, Stick Fly is, perhaps, Lydia R. Diamond’s best-known play, thanks to its 2011-12 Broadway run, produced by singer-songwriter Alicia Keys. But how does this play about an affluent African-American family vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard stand up 10 years later, during a pandemic, and in the State of North Carolina? Quite well, going by PlayMakers Repertory Company’s current production, which will conclude its two-week run on Feb. 1-6 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H Gillings Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Though director and 21-season PlayMakers Repertory Company member Kathryn Hunter-Williams described the play as a story about “class, feminism, interracial relationships, colorism, and betrayal,” she wanted to “dig into” the humor and universal family dynamics — a goal that depends at least as much on the cast as the director.

The cast includes (L-R) Jamar Jones, Omolade Wey, Oscar Best, Anthony August, & AhDream Smith (photo by HuthPhoto)

The play opens on a young African-American woman removing white sheets from the furniture at center stage, singing and dancing to music playing on her earphones but audible to the audience. This is Cheryl, maid and long-time friend of the family who owns the house; and actress Omolade Wey makes it clear from the get-go that we are going to like her. The lights then illuminate a beautifully set stage with all the common rooms and amenities of a family’s summer vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard, with details as exacting as bags from Stop&Shop, the largest grocery chain in New England and likely the only one in Martha’s Vineyard.

Kent (Anthony August), the younger son of the wealthy and successful LeVay family, soon arrives with his fiancée, Taylor (AhDream Smith), after which Kent’s older brother Flip (Khalil LeSaldo) and their father Joe (Oscar Best) appear. When Flip’s self-described WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) girlfriend Kimber (Tori Jewell) arrives, the scene is set for Diamond’s comedic exploration of “family, legacy and generational conflict.”

Stick Fly stars Jamar Jones as Flip (Harold) LeVay and Tori Jewell as Kimber in (photo by HuthPhoto)

LeSaldo’s natural dialogue delivery and portrayal of Flip’s slippery character is immediately believable and appreciated. Indeed, all the actors do a good job of portraying their characters, but the women are the standouts — not only because Diamond wrote them this way, but because Wey and Smith play them with passion and authenticity. Though she flubbed several lines, Smith’s harmonious portrayal of Taylor’s convictions and forthrightness — in light of her personal insecurities — is entertaining and refreshing. Wey brings out the young maid Cheryl more slowly, consistent with how she’s written, such that Wey’s mastery of the role and the depth of the character, herself, are more evident each time she appears.

The play is dominated by dialogue; and given the static setting and the intimacy of the characters, it could be easy to imagine yourself on an unpleasant, somewhat boring vacation with family that loves to bicker and argue — which is not exactly the experience theatergoers are looking for. At times, it seems things might veer in this direction; but, thankfully, these moments are ameliorated with well-delivered passion or comic relief, generally delivered by the female characters. Nonetheless, fewer and shorter scene transitions would reduce the performance from 2.5 hours, which is a long time to demand an audience’s attention, particularly for a performance dominated by discussion.

The cast includes (from left) Omolade Wey, Jamar Jones, AhDream Smith, and Anthony August (photo by HuthPhoto)

In a preshow interview, director Kathryn Hunter-Williams stated that for her, at its heart, Stick Fly is about a family reclaiming “the fierce love they have for each other, even after big secrets are uncovered, and how we all need to hold on to the fact that we can all be transformed and healed.” However, the second half of the play — the only real “action” — presents more as quick and tidy closure than as believable transformation and healing. Fortunately, this is overshadowed by AhDream Smith’s precise delivery of the last line of the play, which brings us to the foundation of human combativeness and defensiveness, regardless of race, class, or gender: the desire to be accepted.

PlayMakers Rep’s current production of Stick Fly is both thought-provoking and entertaining — not an easy combination. If you aren’t spent from listening to the actors’ conversations during the play, it’s sure to make for meaningful discussion afterwards.

Stick Fly stars Jamar Jones as Flip (Harold) LeVay and Anthony August as Spoon (Kent) LeVay (photo by HuthPhoto)

Lydia R. Diamond’s STICK FLY (In Person at In Person at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 1-6, Feb. 1-6), directed by Kathryn Hunter-Williams and starring AhDream Smith as Taylor, Anthony August as Spoon (Kent) LeVay, Omolade Wey as Cheryl, Khalil LeSaldo as Flip (Harold) LeVay, Oscar Best as Joe LeVay, and Tori Jewell as Kimber (PlayMakers Repertory Company in the Paul Green Theatre in the Joan H Gillings Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill). SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/books?id=LR2GDP8x9BEC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false. VIDEOS: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO7crv41zzCYf9HxRDUEVdw. 2021-22 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2021-2022/. PRC NEWS RELEASE: https://playmakersrep.org/press/playmakers-repertory-company-presents-stick-fly-by-lydia-r-diamond/. THE PRESENTER: https://playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://www.instagram.com/playmakersrep/, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCO7crv41zzCYf9HxRDUEVdw. PRC BLOG: https://playmakersrep.org/about-us/our-blog/. THE VENUE: https://playmakersrep.org/about-us/paul-green-theatre/ and . DIRECTIONS/PARKING: https://playmakersrep.org/visitor-info/directions-and-parking/. COVID REQUIREMENTS: https://playmakersrep.org/21-22-season-faqs/#health_safety. THE SHOW: https://playmakersrep.org/artists/lydia-r-diamond/, https://www.concordtheatricals.com/p/9798/stick-fly, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/stick-fly-490502, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stick_Fly. THE SCRIPT (excerpts): https://books.google.com/. THE PLAYWRIGHT: https://playmakersrep.org/artists/lydia-r-diamond/, https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/lydia-r-diamond-490504, https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/people/lydia-r-diamond, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm5912208/, and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lydia_R._Diamond. NOTE 1: This play is rated PG-13, because of mature language and themes. NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1st, performance. NOTE 3: The Feb. 1-6 shows will be Socially Distanced Performances. TICKETS: $20 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here to buy tickets. INFORMATION: 919-962-7529 or prcboxoffice@unc.edu. PLEASE DONATE TO: PlayMakers Repertory Company.

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A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children’s picture books. She has published children’s stories and verse in Highlights Children’s Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of The Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council’s Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn’t writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as an Associate Supervisor on the Durham’s Soil and Water Conservation District. Click here to read Melissa Rooney’s reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

By Melissa Rooney

A Durham, NC resident for 20 years, Melissa Rooney is a scientific editor, freelance writer, and author of several science-based children's picture books. She has published children's stories and verse in Highlights Children's Magazine and Bay Leaves. Rooney earned undergraduate degrees in English and Chemistry from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA; and she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1998 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Her stories Eddie the Electron and The Fate of The Frog form the basis of two workshops offered through the Durham Arts Council's Culture and Arts in the Public Schools (CAPS) program, through which Rooney teaches elementary- and middle-school students about electrons and atoms or sustainability and rhyme, respectively. When she isn't writing, editing, reading, teaching, or experiencing theater, Rooney volunteers as an Associate Supervisor on the Durham's Soil and Water Conservation District.

2 comments

  1. The program told me there is a mispelling in this article. Omolade Wey’s name is spelled here as Omolade Way.

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