Family get together redefines “family” in this harshly comic gem
Published: March 23, 2011
By Lydia R. Diamond
Through April 17 at Everyman Theatre
Cheryl is the last young woman to whom the LeVay men should be giving any shit. The teenage daughter of the longtime housekeeper at the LeVays’ Martha’s Vineyard cottage, Cheryl is whip-smart, intuitively observant, verbally precocious, and absolutely positively not afraid to speak her mind. And she’s spent her entire life around this family. She knows how to make the sandwich that neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph LeVay (David Emerson Toney) prefers—and knows that what he really wants are the pickled pigs feet. She carries a bit of a torch for the handsome eldest LeVay son, plastic surgeon Flip (Kevin Jiggetts), and bridles a bit when he brings his new lady friend Kimber (Kaytie Morris) to the cottage for the weekend. And Cheryl is especially suspicious of entomologist Taylor (Erika Rose), the fiancee of the youngest LeVay son, Kent (Kevin S. McAllitser), an aspiring novelist. Taylor keeps trying to ingratiate herself with the family, and her constant efforts to make nice with Cheryl just rub the young woman the wrong way. But Cheryl is the help; she’s not there to take part in family discussions, no matter how close she feels to the LeVays. It’s her job to arrive first and prepare the house. She gets asked—and sometimes ordered—to make this drink or prepare that meal. And once all are gathered and drinks are consumed and relationships discussed and current and previous sexual peccadilloes disclosed, Cheryl has endured a soap opera’s worth of melodrama—with the biggest shocker still to come. It’s a very Cheever weekend.
And yet, Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly isn’t the typical family drama as examination of American affluence. For one, the LeVays are African-American, Martha’s Vineyard being one of the first places blacks owned land in the New World. And the house actually belongs to Dr. LeVay’s wife and Flip and Kent’s mother, whose family, the Whitcombs, has been on the island for generations. Dr. LeVay arrives at the house by himself, and though Flip and Kent find that odd, their father assures them their mother is coming, even though he keeps making Cheryl run interference for him when she calls.
The power of Diamond’s play, though, lies in how specifically she realizes the LeVays as an instance of bourgeoisie African-American life, and how universally familiar their intra-family problems are. And what makes it so potent is the adroit way Diamond handles race: It’s an issue that can’t be ignored, but it’s not the deep heart into which Stick Fly plunges. What Diamond fearlessly and quite comically explores is the intersection of class and family frisson, a barbed subject that knows no color line.
Under the lithe directorial touch of Everyman Artistic Director Vincent M. Lancisi and in the hands of this nimble cast, that thematic core sneaks up on you. Stick Fly’s first act is a cagey narrative of misdirection: Taylor, the daughter of a prominent Afrocentric cultural anthropologist, is meeting Kent’s family for the first time—though when Flip arrives she realizes she met him six years earlier. The LeVays live a comfortable life in which she feels completely foreign—her renowned father left her and her mother when Taylor was young, and remarried. And Flip is surprising everyone with Kimber, his female du jour—a posh WASP who works with inner-city youth. (One running gag is Flip referring to Kimber as Italian instead of white, which blows up in his face when his father meets her and starts speaking in impeccable Italian that she doesn’t understand.) Taylor and Kimber get along as well as lithium and water, and after enough drinks and casual intellectual banter about educational opportunity and white American exceptionalism, Taylor tears into Kimber with a serrated verbal blade and ostracizes herself even further from her sophisticated and civilized hosts.
That outburst, however, is one of many moments that feel dramatically natural and verbally on point. Diamond’s ear for the way people talk to each other is incredibly acute. She winningly captures the shorthand between lovers, the polyphony of power embedded in the terse words exchanged between a father and son, the way women sizing each other up can inject insult into everyday pleasantries, the far too common immaturity of uncommonly educated people, and a teenage girl’s bullshit-free honesty. Throughout, Diamond delivers insightful remark after sidesplitting laugh, and doesn’t let up until the play’s final, delicious line of understated irony.
Best of all, this game cast recognizes the script’s comedic verbal arsenal and isn’t afraid to take aim at each other. Jiggetts, McAllister, and Toney are solid, but their characters’ relationships are not unusual: that strange, competitive push and pull that exists between a father and his sons and between brothers. It’s the women that get the most to work with, and they seriously deliver. Rose, who was superb in Everyman’s 2009 Soul Collector, and Morris move from adversaries to rivals to not so much friends as two grown-ass women who end the weekend with a very different opinion of each other than when they started.
It’s Dorsey, in her Everyman debut, who damn near steals the show every so often here. Cheryl is the fly in the ointment, a wild-card observing and commenting upon the adults’ foibles until she finds herself becoming the play’s central concern. It’s a twist you see coming, but it’s to Dorsey’s credit that she infuses Cheryl with that precarious balance of a teen’s impudence and a young woman’s emotional maturity that belies her age. This lovely vacation cottage belongs to the family with the exalted pedigree, but Stick Fly belongs to her.
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