In her 2011 Broadway play, “Stick Fly,” Lydia R. Diamond attempts a bold take on contemporary African-American lives.
It centers on a family of wealth and position with troubles and secrets that are of its own making, rather than resulting from the impact of discrimination and economic woes. Raleigh Little Theatre’s production doesn’t solve all the script’s problems, but its engaging cast and admirable technical aspects win the audience’s enthusiastic approval.
During a long summer weekend at the LeVay family’s house on Martha’s Vineyard, brothers Kent and Flip bring their girlfriends to meet their father, Joe, a successful neurosurgeon. Kent, whose goal to be a published author doesn’t please his father, brings along Taylor, a feisty entomologist. Flip, a noted plastic surgeon, brings along Kimber, a privileged white woman who studies inner-city schools. Cheryl, a senior at an elite Manhattan high school, is filling in for her sick mother, the LeVay’s long-time housekeeper.
There are some gripping confrontations among all six characters, especially after several sexual secrets are revealed. Diamond astutely demonstrates the prejudices that can exist among African-Americans and makes trenchant points about the universality of parental expectations and wealth’s corrupting power.
But Diamond packs the play with too many soap opera-style relationships and twists in an uneven mix of comedy and drama. At more than two and a half hours, the play is a long sit, especially with a first act that’s mostly exposition. Diamond’s attempt to make Taylor’s study of flies a metaphor for examining people’s lives up close also doesn’t come to much.
Thankfully, director Karen Dacons-Brock has assembled a fine, likeable cast. Marcus Zollicoffer makes a sympathetic Kent, moving in his inability to confront his disparaging father. Moriah Williams lets us see Taylor’s insecurities over her humble upbringing and her fierce need for approval. As Flip, TJ Swann convinces as a wisecracking playboy and Amy White craftily embodies Kimber’s above-it-all mind-set. Thomasi McDonald (full disclosure: an N&O employee) exudes Joe’s iron confidence in his stature, unshaken even after compromising circumstances. Cheryl’s growing discomfort as maid-for-a-weekend is evident in Tosin Olufolabi’s layered portrayal.
The Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre has been reconfigured to allow Arthur Reese’s huge set to stretch across one wall. The pleasing three-level depiction of living room, kitchen and deck makes room for satisfyingly varied staging.
At Friday’s opening, numerous casual scenes (playing board games, having drinks) were too realistically relaxed, slowing the pace. Dacons-Brock also awkwardly seated McDonald in the kitchen with his back to two thirds of the audience during two long scenes, obscuring his reactions.
Nevertheless, the actors’ talents and the play’s several thought-provoking situations make the production worth the journey.
Want to go?
What: “Stick Fly” by Lydia R. Diamond
Where: Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 21-23, 28-30; 3 p.m. Jan. 24, 31
Tickets: $22 (seniors/students $18)
Info: 919-821-3111 or raleighlittletheatre.org