The LeVay family is part of the black elite and their vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard is the setting for this play. The youngest son Kent has brought his fiancée, Taylor, home to meet his parents. A fiery and outspoken girl, Taylor feels like she is from the wrong side of the tracks and tries too hard to make people like her.
The oldest son Flip surprises his family by bringing home a white girl, Kimber. Growing up in the moneyed world herself, Kimber now works with inner city kids and couldn’t care less what people think of her.
Cheryl, the daughter of the family’s long-time housekeeper, is taking her sick mother’s place for the weekend. And Joe, the patriarch of the household, arrives without his wife. Old wounds are reopened and hidden secrets are revealed, leaving everyone to wonder whether the weekend will end in redemption or heartache.
Nikkole Salter plays Taylor with energy and compassion, giving depth to the girl’s struggle to be accepted by the elite world. At times Taylor lashes out with indignation, and in the next moment she is a scared little girl afraid that another man she loves may walk out of her life. Salter’s portrayal of this complex girl is dynamic.
Rosie Benton‘s portrayal of Kimber, the rich white girl enjoying turning heads with her black boyfriend, is subtle and strong. She brings a maturity to the role and we like her frankness and lack of pretension. And Benton’s sense of comic timing was spot on.
Amber Iman brings a genuine vulnerability to Cheryl, the intelligent and spirited daughter of the housekeeper. The emotional journey that Cheryl is forced to take through the story is a difficult one, and I thought Iman was the heart and soul of the play.
Jason Dirden plays Kent, a sensitive young man who has spent years trying to find his place in the world. Trying to fight his family’s warped image of what it means to be a man, Kent walks a delicate line between being a pushover and a caring man. Dirden has a great heart and comes across as an absolute sweetheart.
Flip, played by Billy Eugene Jones, is a smooth talking ladies man, but one who is longing for a woman who will make him work for her love. Jones brings a real warmth to the role, making Flip likeable even though we don’t approve of all his actions.
Joe, played by Wendell W. Wright, serves as the antagonist and comes across as a wounded monster, someone who took the hardships of life and grew bitter and hard. Joe is sophisticated, cultured, suave in one moment, and in the next weak, cowardly, and cold. It’s a powerful role and Wright plays it very well.
There were moments when this play felt like a Tyler Perry sit-com. There were also moments when it simply fell flat. The characters were able to identify and verbalize their deepest fears and anger in moments of tragedy in ways that were unrealistic. It felt as though we were being told, ‘This is what the play is about. This is what I want you to understand.’ A little restraint could have allowed the audience to find the truth as it related to them, instead of as it related to the playwright.
That said, this was an enjoyable production with an energetic and talented cast. Stick Fly will be playing at the Arena Stage in Crystal City through February 7.
Written by Lydia Diamond, directed by Kenny Leon, set design by David Gallo, costume design by Reggie Ray, lighting design by Allen Lee Hughes, sound design by Timothy J. Thompson.
Rosie Benton, Jason Dirden, Amber Iman, Billy Eugene Jones, Nikkole Salter, and Wendell W. Wright.