Stick Fly: Cort Theatre 16 February 2012

Stick Fly is another play that my boss has invested in and he was kind enough to get house seats for rtb, violaleeblue, and me. The play takes place in a house on Martha’s Vineyard – the Playbill notes that the house is not in Oak Bluffs, the affluent black town. The land that this home is built on was given to a free black man, who was a ship captain (the family doesn’t talk about the cargo he carried) in the 1800s, after he saved the mayor’s son.

It opens with Cheryl (Condola Rashad), an 18-year-old student and the maid, getting the house ready. Newly engaged couple Taylor (Tracie Thoms), an entomologist, and Spoon (Dulé Hill), a writer, enter. His mother is the direct descendant of the ship captain and Taylor is overwhelmed by the family’s wealth. There’s an original Romare Bearden on the wall and portraits of family members going back hundreds of years. Spoon’s older brother Flip (Mekhi Phifer), a plastic surgeon, arrives and then the men’s father Joe (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), a neurosurgeon. Flip’s girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton), who is an inner-city schoolteacher, wealthy and a WASP, gets there the next day.

It’s a story of dysfunctional family dynamics that play out in-between and during arguments and discussions of race and class. If you watch soap operas you can see the twists coming – but the events don’t devolve into the worst of the soaps. Writer Lydia R. Darling and director Kenny Leon keep everything moving. This is helped by David Gallo’s scenic design. The living room is front and center with the kitchen up and over on audience left. The wall between the kitchen and living room was cut out – a big rectangle at an angle. The bottom cut went through the books and a statue sitting on the shelves in the living room. It made it possible for the action to take place in both rooms at the same time. The patio in the backyard was used the same way.

The acting also lifted this play. Hill is a Broadway veteran and his way of speaking is mannered, which worked for the characters of Charlie in the West Wing and Gus in Psych. It took me a bit to get used to it here, but eventually I was drawn in. This is Phifer’s Broadway debut and he’s a natural. He has a very strong stage presence – much stronger than in any TV role I’ve seen him in. He did mess up one line, which he corrected and the audience laughed and applauded, which made Phifer and Hill laugh. It was one of those special moments shared by the actors and the audience. Santiago-Hudson is also a Broadway veteran and I’d never have known from his TV work just how wonderful an actor he is. Thoms also showed me a side that I’d never seen in her TV work. This is also Rashad’s Broadway debut and she was fantastic. You had to believe her in order to believe a lot of the action and she never wavered. Benton held her own and made what could have been a caricature into a real person.

For celebrity sightings, Bobby Cannavale was sitting down the row from us and there was another actor sitting two rows in front of us, but I still cannot remember his name.

By Carene Lydia Lopez