‘Stick Fly’ doesn’t stick on Broadway

Mekhi Phifer and Ruben Santiago-Hudson star in 'Stick Fly' -- Photo courtesy of Richard Termine

Stick Fly, Lydia R. Diamond’s new play at the Cort Theatre, is an uneven family drama that features strangely disparate performances and more twists-and-turns then a roller-coaster. The resulting two-act performance, directed by the usually reliable Kenny Leon, is at times effective and frustrating.

Spoon LeVay (Dulé Hill from TV’s The West Wing) has brought his new girl to the family homestead on Martha’s Vineyard. Taylor (Tracie Thoms) is a fiercely independent woman who has an opinion on just about everything. Although she’s nervous about the prospects of meeting Spoon’s affluent family, she is also ready for the challenge.

Spoon’s brother, Flip (Mekhi Phifer), has also brought home the love of his life: Kimber (Rosie Benton), a white woman who’s simply described as an “Italian.”

Mother LeVay is never seen on stage, but we certainly get enough parental guidance from Father LeVay, played by the always excellent Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Old Joe loves his two sons, but feels that Spoon has wasted his privileged upbringing on silly artistic ventures.

Rounding out the cast is Condola Rashad as Cheryl, the young caretaker who’s filling in for her ailing mother.

The play, which runs a long two-hours-30-minutes, looks at how Taylor and Kimber fit uneasily into the family dynamic. Many subjects of great importance are discussed and argued over. From race relations to education, the LeVays love to bat around a few hot topics.

Diamond is an expert writer who is able to tackle some fairly nuanced areas. Her characters are brilliantly well-versed on their placement in society. Perhaps that’s why the two new additions (especially Taylor) feel so out of sync with the LeVays. They are a wealthy family with a great beachside mansion and industry reputation in their chosen fields. They are powerful and successful.

Cheryl and Taylor may share their race, but they find themselves on the outside looking in. Has the LeVay’s success changed their perspective on life?

Although Diamond’s words are nicely written, the story becomes too melodramatic as the family begins to unearth certain closeted secrets. By the play’s end, just about every skeleton has been laid bare. The way the play describes revelation after revelation cheapens these finely drawn characters and catapults the proceedings into the land of exaggeration. It turns out that these family members aren’t living, breathing adults with thoughtful minds; they are constructs to convey a manufactured story, a tale of pointed fingers and “wow” reveals.

The acting is uneven. It takes Thoms some time to find the character, but when she does, Taylor is fascinating. The same can’t be said for Hill’s Spoon. With his droll line delivery and seeming uneasiness with the part, Hill can’t find the motivation behind this man who has been insulted and discarded by his father.

Phifer and Benton are pitch-perfect, and Santiago-Hudson is an American theatrical legend worthy of cherishment.

The real find is Rashad, who was so heartbreaking in the off-Broadway premiere of Lynn Nottage’s Ruined. As the outsider tasked with cleaning up after the rich folk, we come to identify with Cheryl. We feel for her seemingly impossible trek toward a college degree, and we find her work ethic inspiring. The fact that this character is the main victim of the second-act soap opera revelations is doubly disappointing.

Stick Fly has potential, but it’s suffocated by a tendency to shock audience members. The LeVays deserve better.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • Stick Fly

  • Written by Lydia R. Diamond

  • Directed by Kenny Leon

  • Starring Dulé Hill, Mekhi Phifer, Tracie Thoms, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Rosie Benton and Condola Rashad

  • Playing at the Cort Theatre at 138 W. 48th St. in New York City.

  • Click here for more information. Tickets start at $35.

  • Running time: 150 minutes

  • Rating: ★★☆☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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