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REVIEW: ‘Stick Fly’ stirs up secrets

stickfly120911_optDule Hill and Mekhi Phifer contrast as brothers of an affluent family on vacation

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
BROADWAY REVIEW

The curious title for Lydia R. Diamond’s new play, “Stick Fly,” refers to an insect that is glued to a stick for further study by scientists.

Opening on Thursday at the Cort Theatre, “Stick Fly” accordingly studies an affluent African-American family during one weekend at their ancestral summer home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Because the story’s interest basically lies in the gradual revelation of secrets, let’s not furnish too much information here. Suffice to say that the LeVay family’s two adult brothers bring along the new women in their lives to meet their folks.

The artsy brother, Spoon (Dule Hill), arrives with his fiancee Taylor (Tracie Thoms), a prickly graduate student of entomology (reference the title) who obviously is ill at ease within the family’s stately halls. The slicker elder sibling, Flip (Mekhi Phifer), is a ladies’ man snared by Kimber (Rosie Benton), a WASP-y beauty scarcely awed by her surroundings.

Let’s just leak one secret in that Taylor soon is dismayed to encounter Flip, with whom she had a fling some years before. Spoon knows nothing about the affair. Uh oh …

Plenty more beans get spilled in Diamond’s daytime drama-ish saga that also involves the judgmental LeVay patriarch, Joe (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), a noted neurosurgeon, and 18-year-old Cheryl (Condola Rashad), the bright daughter of the family’s now-ailing longtime maid. stick2fly120911_opt

Father-offspring tensions, racism, class, and privilege are among the issues that the writer casually fields in her straightforwardly composed play that often glints with humor and features several enjoyable confrontations among its characters. The sparks that fly between feisty Taylor and clear-eyed Kimber are especially bright.

Do not expect a terribly profound or exciting play but rather a mildly enjoyable, if overlong, visit with a family whose skeletons get rattled. The acting could be more consistent, with performances ranging from the dreariness of Hill’s unrelievedly sad-sack depiction of Spoon to Rashad’s vibrant, deeply-felt portrayal of Cheryl. Phifer and Benton confidently mesh as a power couple in the making.

Director Kenny Leon’s alternately brisk or sluggish pacing and a handsome but overpowering setting of the LeVay’s Victorian mansion designed by David Gallo that suggests Newport more than the Vineyard tend to obscure the conversational ease of Diamond’s dialogue. Songwriter Alicia Keys, one among the show’s producers, contributes rather too much incidental music.

“Stick Fly” continues at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.stickflybroadway.com.

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