There is a town that has become so historically important in the African American culture that it has been the center where blacks who had wealth and advanced degrees could vacation, start a legacy of traditions and form identities equaled to those that once viewed them as slaves. A haven that has been in existence since the eighteenth century, where people of color can feel and live free.
The island of Martha's Vineyard is known for its 'gingerbread cottages' built in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, unlike the other towns on the island, Oak Bluff welcomed black tourists to stay in their inns and hotels.
However, over time the families were allotted to stay on other parts of the island, such as Edgartown, a historically white town. The families that dwelled there every year on vacation were affluent African Americans that were part of prestigious organizations such as the Links, Sigma Pi Phi Boule, Jack & Jill, and the Guardsmen.
Writers Theatre has graciously bestowed unto the people of Glencoe, playwright Lydia R. Diamond lively, intelligent and moving rollercoaster drama-comedy, 'Stick Fly.'
Coming off a very successful stint on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, Diamond made history as a black woman alongside two others, Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and Suzan-Lori Park's (Porgy and Bess), who penned a play with productions playing on Broadway stages.
Diamond is brilliant at switching the conventional method of blending in discussions related to layers within the African- American culture using the three classes of people under one roof.
'Stick Fly,' is about a wealthy African American family, the LeVay's who are spending a weekend on Martha's Vineyard, where sibling rivalry and parental probabilities collide. Two brothers bring their new girlfriends (one black and one white) to their second home for a weekend getaway, to meet their very prestigious and daunting parents.
The mother is noticeably missing, and the father is acting strangely, which causes a weekend meant for relaxation, to be turned into a weekend of interrogation. Where hidden family secrets and lies, parley into everyone being scrutinized like a bug on a stick as they grapple with arguments around cultural experiences, race, and class.
Set in 2005 on Martha's Vineyard, in Edgartown, is where we meet the financially privileged, yet complicated family 'The LeVay's. In the opening scene, we see Cheryl (Ayanna Bria Bakari), the daughter of the LeVay's housekeeper who is seriously ill. She is filling in for her mother, dancing to the music while getting the cottage together before the family arrives.
The younger son Kent (Eric Gerard), the aspiring novelist, arrives first with his outspoken fiancé Taylor (Jennifer Latimore). Taylor is an entomologist with abandonment daddy issues, who is in awe of the wealth that is on display at the LeVay's cottage. Taylor's father is an author, is one of the most celebrated academics in the region. His books related to African-American history are on the shelves at LeVay home. The play's title 'Stick Fly' refers to Taylor's character as an entomologist, as she glues house flies to a stick so that she can study the insect's speedy flying patterns.
Flip (DiMonte Henning) is the golden boy who happens to be a plastic surgeon and his father's favorite. His girlfriend, who is Italian by origin Kimber (Kayla Raelle Holder), arrives the next day. Her association with inner-city schools' race dynamics, apart from her privileged background, allows her to fit right in with the family, contrary to Taylor. The patriarch of the family is Joe LeVay (David Alan Anderson), who married up, walks into the home alone, and his sons are confused by his single arrival without their mother.
We have had the pleasure of knowing Eric Gerard and has seen his growth as an actor, in such performers as To Catch a Fish and King Liz. Gerard, who embodies the role of Kent, continues to show why he should be a Chicagoland favorite. Jennifer Latimore was simply sensational as Taylor. Her corky, charm, and intellect blended right in with the girl with father abandonment issues. Her talent range between the docile wife in Too Heavy For My Pocket and the witty girl that seems to need a Xanax, here in Stick Fly, proves her a chameleon, who changes their opinions or behavior according to the situation or role required.
Kayla Raelle Holder, as Kimber, the only white person at the Vineyard, was great as the sassy, independent, I can dish it and take it character. Her back and forth banter with Taylor to show she was the real sista was sic, straight fire, and on point. So I threw in some Urban jargon for you to look up during Black History month, which Kimber with her intercity roots, is already Tope and Chillaxin.
Wisconsin native, DiMonte Henning, makes his debut at Writers as Flip, the highly-educated and arrogant plastic surgeon that brings Kimber to the Vineyard. Henning who was once an intern at the Milwaukee Rep where he performed in The Classic Play "Our Town" and recently A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Rep is perfect is Flip, the son that follows in his father footsteps as a man who can't see himself tied to one person.
David Alan Anderson is becoming one of our favorites actors on stage. His effortless portrayal of a father in both The First Deep Breath and Stick Fly was priceless. As the neurosurgeon, Joe Levay, Anderson's, bias, and pompous demeanor make you see how a father's love can catapult or castrate you. His ability to control a scene via the command of his voice is unparalleled, such as in a scene when he addresses Kent and says, "So, son," you're a very talented fiction writer for whom I paid to get a law degree, a business degree and a master's in sociology." You can feel the intone of contempt in his voice.
Ayanna Brie Bakari is another example of the extraordinary African-American talent in Chicago. She thrilled us as Zoe in Niceties as the sophisticated young woman that wouldn't take a back seat to racism and discrimination.
Bakari (Cheryl) is the loving daughter of a sick housemaid that learns about a long-held secret regarding her birth father. She exudes a commanding stage presence, that is sensitive to every hint of arrogant statements directed her way. She is a young woman living amid the affluent ones, with the opportunity to better herself. Bakari embodies the dynamic tensions that are central to "Stick Fly." Remember her name, because this girl is on fire!
Director Ron OJ Parsons does excellent work adding a few unique additions to the play while keeping its authentic roots designed by the playwright. Parsons has a keen eye for talent and his ability to bring out the best in his actors, which can be seen in the plethora of plays he has directed. Scenic designer Linda Buchanan does an awesome job with the display of fine intricacies in the cottage, shown through artwork, books, and different collections. She also adds that special touch with the sailboat sailing behind the house.
Let's Play 'Highly Recommends' Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, where food, drinks, identity politics, race, class, and board games await you at Vineyard.
Writers Theatre Presents
Written by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Ron OJ Parson
February 5, 2020 - March 15, 2020
Filed under: ChicagoNow