Reviewed by Suzanne Angeo (member, American Theatre Critics Association)
and Greg Angeo (Member Emeritus, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle)
Photos courtesy of Meadow Brook Theatre
Stick Fly Offers Entertainment, Unique Perspective
The LeVays seem to have it all. They’re from old money, well-educated and financially secure, with a fine summer home on Martha’s Vineyard that’s been in the family for generations. The two family scions, thirtysomething sons, are bringing their new girlfriends home to meet the folks and spend a pleasant and luxurious weekend at the seashore.
This rather bland upper-class setting serves as an effective backdrop for slicing through nearly every social and cultural expectation we have today: between parents and children, between blacks and whites, between the upper and lower classes, between romantic partners, and also what defines a successful life. It’s powerful stuff, sure to inspire spirited discussion afterwards.
Written in 2006 by Detroit native Lydia R Diamond, this thoughtful, funny, provocative play seeks to present a view of African-American family life that’s vastly different from what is usually seen onstage, in films and on TV. “Stick Fly” garnered LA Drama Critics Awards in 2010 for Best Production, Best Direction and Best Ensemble Cast. It premiered on Broadway in 2011 and ran a year to critical acclaim, produced by singer-songwriter Alicia Keys, who said “…it’s relatable with universal themes that go beyond race and class. It’s about family and the secrets that unravel. No matter where you come from, or what you look like, this is a story for you because it addresses the human experience.”
The family patriarch, noted neurosurgeon Dr Joseph LeVay (a charmingly effective Lorenzo Scott) is a strong and loving father, but he proves to be inflexible and judgmental when things don’t go as he expects. He doesn’t immediately say why Mrs LeVay won’t be there, a mystery that has everyone wondering, like a buried incendiary bomb.
Kent (Tyrick Wiltez-Jones) is a disappointment to his father because he wants to be a writer instead of a lawyer. Wiltez-Jones gives a sympathetic and captivating performance as the conflicted Kent. His academic girlfriend Taylor (the outstanding Briana Gibson Reeves) is very direct and outspoken, bristling and bitter from rejection by her upper-class father, a famous author. She and her mother had to struggle to survive, and now she feels intimated by her surroundings, afraid she doesn’t fit in with her new beloved’s upscale family.
Flip (smoothly played by Gary-Kayi Fletcher) is tall and handsome, a successful doctor and favored son. Kimber (Dani Cochrane), Flip’s lady and the only white person in the group, works with inner-city children and has a deep understanding of their needs, even though she comes from a privileged background. Cochrane has some wonderful moments, showing talent for both pathos and comedy.
Cheryl (Kendra Holloway), a sweet and lively teenager, is helping out while her ailing mother, the family maid, recovers at home. Holloway as Cheryl provides much of the comic relief and, at a critical time, reveals an explosive secret that changes the family forever. At one point, the poor girl seems to desperately need a hug, and someone to say just one kind word.
The ensemble cast is truly remarkable, but Reeves delivers, hands-down, the most compelling performance as the antagonistic protagonist Taylor. She reveals her character’s inner soul so that anyone, anywhere, will instantly understand her, and see themselves in her. This is the actor’s gift to us, the audience.
Meadow Brook brought in guest director Benjamin Sterling Cannon from Washington College in Maryland, where he lectures on dance and movement. Cannon’s direction is sure-footed, skillfully weaving the complex interactions between the characters as a sort of choreography of dialogue, a delicate dance on a powder-keg. The lovely set by Jen Price Fick and Scott Ross’ true-to-life ambient lighting and well-placed spotlights help tell the story, with fantastic classical jazz music giving just the right atmosphere.
“Stick Fly” is an important and unforgettable work, a collaboration between playwright and stagecraft that should not be missed.
When: Now through April 14, 2019
8:00 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays
6:30 p.m. Sundays
6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 6
2:00 p.m. Wednesdays & Sundays; Saturday, April 13
Tickets $30 to $45
Where: Meadow Brook Theatre at Wilson Hall
378 Meadow Brook Rd
Rochester Hills, MI 48309