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Stick Fly
by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Chanel Bragg
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis
February 18, 2022

Ron Himes, Ricardy Fabre, Amber Reauchean Williams, Bobbi Johnson, Blair Lewin, DeShawn Harold Mitchell
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Stick Fly is one of those shows that’s a little hard to categorize in terms of “comedy” or “drama”. It’s a vivid, sometimes quirky depiction of a specific family with all their idiosyncrasies, and that can lead to moments of “laugh out loud” comedy, as well as compelling drama. On stage at COCA’s Berges Theatre, the Rep’s production of Lydia R. Diamond’s thoughtfully constructed play benefits greatly from well-paced direction and a memorable, first-rate cast.

This play centers around a well-to-do Black family who regularly spend time at the family’s generations-old house on Martha’s Vineyard, which has belonged to Joe Levay’s (Ron Himes) wife’s family for many years. Joe, a successful surgeon, has two sons, who have brought their respective romantic partners to the house to meet the family. Younger son Kent (Ricardy Fabre), called “Spoon” by his fiancée Taylor (Amber Reauchean Williams), is something of a disappointment to his father, having gone through a series of career aspirations, although now he’s excited about being a writer, with his first novel about to be published. He’s eager to introduce Taylor to the family, although she is insecure about what they will think of her and has various reasons why. Older son Flip (DeShawn Harold Mitchell), who seems to be his father’s favorite, is a plastic surgeon who has gone through a series of superficial relationships, but he’s somewhat nervous to introduce his new girlfriend Kimber (Blair Lewin), who is white.  Also here is Cheryl (Bobbi Johnson), the 18-year-old daughter of the family’s ailing longtime maid. Cheryl, who grew up with this family, has her own revelations and secrets to learn and reveal, as does Joe, who finds himself frequently dodging questions about why his wife has not joined him at the house. Over the course of their stay, the characters reveal a lot about themselves, and struggle with issues of parent-child relationships, family expectations, societal expectations and limitations, the concept of what it means to be a responsible man and father, and a lot more. The way the story plays out sometimes is reminiscent of a sitcom, although there’s a good deal of emotional intensity as well. 

I saw an excellent production of this play from another theatre company a few years ago, and my impression then was that there was a bit of an imbalance between Act 1 and Act 2, with most of the substance of the story being in Act 2. In this production, while Act 1 is still essentially a long introduction, its setup of the story that leads into the more intense moments of Act 2 seems to make more sense. My reaction this time might be because I’ve seen the play before this time, while it was new to me before. Here, it seems like a lot of that setup was necessary to build to the drama, as well as allowing for a more full depiction of the conflicts and backgrounds of all the characters. Also, a theme that resonated this time was something that was brought up in conversation about Kent’s book, which is the idea that a story becomes more universally relatable when it’s more specific to the culture, situations, and characters portrayed, rather than trying to focus more on broad general themes. That theme rings true with this play itself, and this production. Also, the pacing and direction helps to focus the story, and the actors play out their relationship dynamics with impressive credibility.

As for the actors, they are universally excellent, led by Himes in a compelling, complex performance as the sometimes demanding, sometimes evasive Joe, who sets a difficult example for his two very different sons. Fabre brings a lot of sympathetic energy to the role of Kent, who in many ways is the play’s emotional center–and his scenes with the also excellent Williams as the intellectually gifted, scientifically curious, but insecure and emotionally volatile Taylor are a highlight of this production. Mitchell is also convincing as serial charmer Flip, who is matched in energy and chemistry by Lewin as Kimber. Johnson as Cheryl is also strong, navigating her character’s significant emotional arc with clarity and strength. This is a true ensemble cast, with all the actors playing off of each others’ energy especially well, to convincing effect in both the comic and dramatic moments.

Technically, the production also impresses, with set designer Kyu Shin providing an excellent backdrop for the action with a fully realized, detailed house that looks like something someone could actually live in. There’s also great work from lighting designer Amina Alexander in setting and maintaining the mood of the show, as well as helping to differentiate the “outdoor” scenes from the rest of the house set. Costume designer April M. Hickman and sound designer Twi McCallum also contribute to the overall authentic effect of the production.

Stick Fly is another memorable production from the Rep. It works especially well in the new COCA space that the Rep has made excellent use of this season. It’s also a strong showcase for its memorable themes, thoughtful subject matter, vividly defined characters, and excellent cast. 

Ricardy Fabre, Amber Reauchean Williams, Ron Himes, DeShawn Harold Mitchell, Blair Lewin
Photo by Phillip Hamer
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis is presenting Stick Fly at COCA’s Catherine B. Berges Theatre until March 6, 2022

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Stick Fly
by Lydia Diamond
Directed by Lorna Littleway
The Black Rep
February 7, 2015

Photo: The Black Rep

Photo: The Black Rep

Stick Fly, the latest production in the Black Rep’s 2014-2015 season, is an exploration of the various interpersonal dynamics that occur within a family.  It’s playwright Lydia Diamond’s look at relationships that almost seems like two plays.  The Black Rep, with its very strong cast and production values, presents this somewhat complicated and disjointed play with wit, intelligence and honesty.

The story revolves around the Levays, a wealthy African-American family who have owned a home on Martha’s Vineyard for generations.  Through the course of a weekend get-together, we meet newly engaged Kent (Chauncy Thomas), or “Spoon” as his fiancee Taylor (Sharisa Whatley) calls him.  The highly educated academic Kent has come to the house this weekend to introduce Taylor to his family. Taylor, who is from a more middle-class background and grew up estranged from her father, a famous educator, doesn’t know exactly what to expect. Eventually, we meet the rest of the family, including Kent’s older brother Flip, who also has a new woman in his life that he’s anxious about introducing to the family–his girlfriend Kimber (Meghan Maguire), who is white.  There’s also Cheryl (Rhyan Robinson) the teenager daughter of the family’s longtime maid, who is following in her mother’s footsteps; and the patriarch of the family, Joe Levay (Erik Kilpatrick), who has shown up this weekend without his wife, to the confusion of his sons.  As these various characters meet and interact, tensions arise based on many different factors, including wealth and social status, race, and family expectations, as well as what it means to be a father and a “real man”.

This is an oddly structured play, in that the second act is significantly stronger than the first, with the first act setting up situations and introducing characters in a somewhat rambling way, until the action finally starts really moving in the second.  The cast performances reflect this disjointedness, as well, displaying considerably more energy and ensemble chemistry in the second act. As far as I’m concerned, the second act could be the whole play, because that’s where a mildly interesting play becomes a truly fascinating one. So many compelling issues are explored, from Kent’s desire to be an honorable man in the midst of pressures to be otherwise,; to Flip’s continual resistance to “settling down”; to Taylor’s insecurities about her relationships with men, including her famous, deceased father; to Joe’s weariness at dealing with years of racism despite his affluence, as well as his dilemmas concerning parental responsibility. There’s also Kimber’s having to deal with being an outsider in this group, as well as her own desire for a commitment from Flip, who may not be able to give that.  And then there’s Cheryl, whose story is perhaps the most compelling of all, as she deals with issues of identity, expectation, and what bearing some long-kept secrets will have on her future.

The acting here is remarkable. Aside from the general lack of energy in the first act–which can be attributed to both opening night and the fact that Act One is largely unnecessary–the cast really brings out all the energy, wit and drama especially in Act Two.  As Kent, Thomas is charming and sympathetic, projecting a real sense of honesty, reliability and genuine warmth as a man who may feel like an outsider in his family, but in many ways is the one who most has his act together.  Pierre, as Flip, expertly manages to project an air of carefree irresponsibility while, at the same time, showing that somewhere inside, there is conflict and genuine concern.  Whatley plays the conflicted Taylor with gutsy bravado one minute, and guarded vulnerability the next, and her scenes with both Thomas and Pierre are highlights.  There’s also excellent work from Maguire as Kimber, who obviously loves Flip but is just as obviously trying not to get too attached; and Kilpatrick as the weary but still formidable Joe.  Robinson, as Cheryl, is also outstanding as a young woman on a personal quest to come to terms with a revelation she didn’t ask for.

The technical aspects of this production are top-notch all around, for the most part. The gorgeous set, designed by Colt Frank, is meticulously appointed and luxurious, effectively reflecting the elegant style of a Martha’s Vineyard retreat. Ali Turns’s costumes are also particularly appropriate, with some fun little touches like Kent’s orangey-red cropped pants.  Jim Burwinkel’s lighting illuminates the scenes well. In terms of the sound, designed by Robin Weatherall, there were a few volume issues in the first act, although everything ran (and sounded) much more smoothly in the second.

Stick Fly is a strange play in one regard, in that the bulk of the meaning, action and force of this story is told in the second act. Still, it’s a truly marvelous second act.  Especially in that second act, The Black Rep and director Lorna Littleway have presented a show that deals with many issues with a near-seamless blend of comedy and drama, with a virtuoso cast. Even though this really is half of a great play, it’s well worth seeing because that half is truly remarkable.

 

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