UT Preview: The Buzz on Stick Fly

February 28, 2011

Check out the preview article about STICK FLY in the San Diego Union Tribune today:

Theater preview: The buzz on “Stick Fly”



Lorene Chesley, Anthony Hawkins Woods, Diona Reasonover, Matt Orduna and Elizabeth M. Kelly (left to right) in a scene from "Stick Fly."


Lorene Chesley, Anthony Hawkins Woods, Diona Reasonover, Matt Orduna and Elizabeth M. Kelly (left to right) in a scene from “Stick Fly.”

Martha’s Vineyard is popularly known as a New England vacation haven for those whose blood runs blue. As it turns out, though, the place historically has been less monochromatic when it comes to the shade of its visitors’ skin.

Lydia Diamond’s play “Stick Fly,” which opens a production at Mo`olelo Performing Arts Co. this week, centers on an African-American family making its annual trek to the summer colony off Massachusetts, a longtime getaway for the Kennedys and other members of the East Coast establishment.

If that’s not necessarily the kind of setting in which playgoers are accustomed to seeing characters of color (even in this era of a “postracial” society), Diamond points out that it’s nevertheless based in fact.

In the Detroit native’s adopted town of Boston, “there’s a huge community of African-American people with a long history of going to Martha’s Vineyard,” Diamond says. “I think that’s not a new idea for audiences there. (But) I’ve been places where people are less inclined to believe that this family existed in a very normal way. That (they’re) not the exception.”

On one level, “Stick Fly” is simply Diamond’s effort to tell an engrossing and sometimes comical story of one African-American family’s experience living in America. On another, she acknowledges, the play has the potential to upend audience expectations of black characters in theater.

But she didn’t write “Stick Fly” to push political buttons, and that aspect of people’s reactions is “something I can’t really be concerned about,” she says.

“In terms of the exploration of class and race and gender, I think those are things that have always greatly influenced me because they confound,” says Diamond, who teaches at Boston University. “I think they’re really complicated in our society, and it’s hard for us to talk about them. Now I think we’re at an interesting time where we think we’re kind of beyond it, but it’s still hard to talk about.

“Certainly there’s something (deeper) that people respond to. But I also think they respond to the fact that it’s a play about family. I think death to any play is when you say, ‘This is a play about race.’ Or, ‘This is a play about social-whatever.’ It’s a very satisfying family drama-comedy. I think why I wrote it and how it has landed with audiences might be different things.”

For all those reasons, though, “Stick Fly” seems a good fit for Mo`olelo’s current season. The last play staged by artistic director Seema Sueko’s company was “Yellow Face,” David Henry Hwang’s funny and insightful examination of the exasperating complexities of racial identityfrom an Asian-American perspective.

For “Stick Fly,” Sueko originally brought in Robert Barry Fleming — a prominent local director, actor and dialect coach who also has a deep background in dance — to read the part of Joe LeVay, a neurosurgeon and patriarch of the play’s family. Soon enough, he was asked to direct.

“I was really blown away by the kind of courageous, daring voice in the piece,” Fleming says. “And just how witty it was. This kind of contemporary comedy of manners is very rarely seen in the hands of African-American characters. So it was really exciting to have a play that had such a rich language to it, and such incisive and pointed social commentary accompanying that.”

Family, racial and class frictions drive “Stick Fly”: Joe’s two sons have arrived on the Vineyard with their respective mates — one black, one white. The outspoken daughter of the LeVays’ housekeeper also is on hand. (The play’s title derives from studies of insect behavior that one character is conducting.)

There’s plenty of emotional tension and a big reveal of a family secret. But Diamond agrees with director Fleming that comedy is an essential element of the work.

“Even my very serious plays, I think, have humor,” says Diamond, who comes to San Diego on March 11 and 12 for post-performance talkbacks at Mo`olelo. “One of our special things (as humans) is that we can laugh.”

And because going to the theater can require a sizable commitment of time and money, “I don’t think (playgoers) should have to bleed the whole time,” she adds.

“Part of me just thinks that good playwriting is that the story gets told in all its complexity. And yet still, there’s something in it — we take away a certain amount of hope, or something that connects us to our humanity. Enough that we can laugh.”

jim.hebert@uniontrib.com • (619) 293-2040 • Twitter @jimhebert


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