Taylor (Tracy Thoms) has a very nice pair of legs, but she prefers studying creatures with six of them, chiefly musca domestica, the common house fly. Over a long weekend on Martha’s Vineyard at the home of her fiancé Spoon (Dulé Hill), she spends mornings with a net and a set of specimen jars, trapping various insects and scrutinizing their movements. If only such a wealth of close observation informed Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly, a broad and vigorous play, somewhat coarsened by Kenny Leon’s sit-com-style direction.
Diamond’s script opens as Taylor and Spoon arrive at the family manse, a festival of wood paneling, stained glass, and the occasional Romare Bearden original. In case the set design doesn’t sufficiently indicate its grandeur, Diamond has Taylor enter raving, “Wow. Holy— Wow.” If any doubt of its splendor remains, Thomas supplements her line with a few wide-eyed takes to the audience.
Soon the demanding family patriarch, Joe LeVay (Ruben Santiago Hudson), arrives, followed by Spoon’s older brother Flip (Mekhi Phifer) and his white girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton). Already in residence is Cheryl (Condola Rashad), the teenaged daughter of the LeVays’ longtime maid, filling in for her ill mother.
As soon as these characters assemble onstage, a multigenerational cavalcade of secrets and recriminations is bound to follow. If anyone ever went to the beach in this play, you could subtitle this show Other Wetter Cities. Yet unlike Jon Robin Baitz’s play, running a few streets over, you can sense Stick Fly’s revelations days away, telegraphed through indicative gesture and some fateful dialogue.
It’s a shame Diamond and Leon don’t have more just a little more faith in the script, because scattered amid the laugh lines and pulled faces are some truthful emotional moments and a couple of penetrating conversations about class, race, privilege, and responsibility. Similarly, the characters have to volley between specificity and steerotype.
To Leon’s credit, the spectators at the Cort Theatre don’t seem to mind being relegated to the role of “live studio audience.” They supply the laugh track seemingly on cue, offering plenty of “oohs” and “ohs” besides, bursting into applause spontaneously when Taylor cried, “You can kiss my black ass!”
Most of the actors appear to be working very hard, and the results, though exhausting, are never dull. Yet you may find your gaze drifting toward Hill, who nearly manages a relaxed air, and even more often to Rashad, whose Cheryl bears the greatest emotional burden. Strong in Ruined, she’s even better here—clear, precise, and intense, but very rarely showy. Leon encourages her to both jive and shuck (well, corn, but still), and she handles every action with an adolescent’s ungainly grace. The last scene finds her slouched on the sofa, her enormous eyes luminous and wet. Unlike a housefly’s thousand orbs, Rashad has only the single pair. But they’re all she needs.