Saturday, March 14, 2015

Stick Fly

Play #59 - Stick Fly by Lydia R. Diamond

At the beginning of Stick Fly, we meet brothers Flip and Kent who are bringing their girlfriend and fiancee to their family home in the vineyard to meet their parents. The LeVay family is a very well-to-do African American family - a family that has had every possible advantage in life. The patriarch of the family, Joseph, is a neurosurgeon, Flip is a plastic surgeon. We don't know what Mrs. LeVay does for a living, but she comes from a long line of money. Kent brings home his fiancee Taylor whose biological father was a prominent scholar of the same economic class as the LeVays, but she had no relationship with him after he left her and her mother. This makes her uncomfortable with the affluence of the LeVays. Flip is bringing home his girlfriend Kimber, who studies inner-city dynamics and the achievement gap. Though he is concerned that his mother won't like her, because Kimber is white. Also in the mix is Cheryl, the daughter of the family's long time maid Ms. Ellie, who has recently taken ill. Mrs. LeVay never shows up, however, and Joseph dodges and dodges the reason for her absence. In the meanwhile, the dynamics ebb and flow with a believable feel as family and personal issues bubble to the surface. We learn that Taylor and Flip actually had a one night stand six years ago. We see right away that Joseph is disappointed in the fact that Kent hasn't yet found himself a stable career (he is particularly disapproving of his latest endeavor as a writer - though his first book is about to be published). We see Taylor's discomfort with Kimber, who tends to speak all too knowingly about the difficulties that face African-American youth in education. In the end, it turns out that Ms. Ellie didn't show up because Mrs. LeVay had threatened to fire her when she discovered recently that Cheryl is actually Joseph's daughter - something that Ms. Ellie chose to tell Cheryl over the phone this weekend.

One of the things that I think is particularly difficult about writing a family drama is creating a world in which the people who are related seem related without all sounding the same, and the people who are not related feel just outside enough from the family unit. This is something that I think Diamond does very well. Relationships are very clear in her writing. The way she builds the minor conflicts is effective in diverting the audience's attention, while planting just enough seeds about the Cheryl/Joseph relationship. It doesn't feel full of histrionics, but genuinely familial. And, as they point out about Kent's novel, it is the specificity and detail of a personal story that can achieve a universally accessible feeling. There are also some decent monologues in here, so that's always a bonus!

Oh - and my favorite line. It's one of Taylor's insights on relationships: " men are almost never serial killers, they dress well, and usually can dance."

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