In its East Coast premiere at Princeton’s McCarter Theater Center, Lydia R. Diamond’s “Stick Fly” leaps with flinty dialogue, crisply tailored performances and a plot laced with hidden secrets and shocking revelations. Focused on a vacationing African-American family on Martha’s Vineyard, the well-staged production is a refreshingly vital story about relationships and richly complex characters. Although race and class are pivotal issues here, the drama is human.
Diamond’s well-cut jewel of a play concerns the LeVay family: philandering father Joe (John Wesley), struggling novelist son Spoon (Kevin T. Carroll), successful doctor son Flip (Javon Johnson), and Cheryl (Julia Pace Mitchell), the illegitimate daughter of the family maid.
Also in the mix are Flip’s white girlfriend Kimber (Monette Magrath) and Spoon’s outspoken fiancee Taylor (Michole Briana White).
While it’s a long time coming, the major conflict arises when the Taylor accuses Kimber of being a ” slummin’ rebellious white liberal.” Taylor’s explosive diatribe puts a strain on the brothers. It get even tackier when Flip confesses to an earlier brief fling with Taylor.
As more family secrets are revealed, play gets a little soapy, but the dialogue and acting are boldly flavorful and compelling enough to sustain interest.
The well-defined cast exhibits cunning insight into the family’s pride and shame and their passion. The play also has a warm, refreshingly humorous thrust.
White is expressive as the aggressive girlfriend, and Mitchell comes in to her own in the play’s final moments with a defiant plea for recognition and acceptance. Magrath is beautifully restrained as the white girl in a tempestuous mix.
A tautly restrained Wesley heightens the finale with a starkly bold defensive confessional, and, as the divided brothers, Carroll and Johnson give the play its formidable thrust and true grit.
The detailed staging by Shirley Jo Finney offers fluent movement and purpose.
While some cutting is clearly warranted, Diamond displays a rare gift for narrative flow and character development.
With a picturesque lighthouse in the far distance, Felix E. Cochran has designed a summery three tier set that serves as a comfortably attractive vacation home. Its inhabitants are also enveloped in a serviceable sound and lighting design.