Stick Fly

A vibrant cast brings to life Lydia R. Diamond’s new Broadway comedy about a wealthy African-American family.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Tracie Thoms (© Richard Termine)

Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Tracie Thoms in Stick Fly (© Richard Termine)

Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Tracie Thoms in Stick Fly.

A vibrant cast brings to life Lydia R. Diamond's new comedy Stick Fly, at Broadway's Cort Theatre. But while there are plenty of laughs to be had, the piece is also a nuanced look at race and class dynamics.

The play is set in the Martha's Vineyard home of the LeVays, a wealthy African-American family. Joe LeVay (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is spending some time there with his two adult sons, Harold a.k.a. Flip (Mekhi Phifer) and Kent a.k.a. Spoon (Dulé Hill), who have each brought along their respective girlfriends.

Taylor (Tracie Thoms) is Spoon's fiancée, although it's clear from early on that she has a history with Flip, as well. Taylor is the daughter of a famous African-American scholar from his first marriage, but has obvious unresolved father issues. Kimber (Rosie Benton) is Flip's girlfriend; she also happens to be white, which leads to at least one major confrontation over the course of the play.

Rounding out the cast is Cheryl (Condola Rashad), the daughter of the LeVay family's maid. She is filling in for her ailing mother, but has her own agenda and becomes the catalyst for the play's most significant plot turn.

Admittedly, there are portions of the script that seem overly contrived, or a trifle melodramatic. But the dialogue is witty, and the verbal sparring that occasionally breaks out between characters allows for the expression of certain provocative ideas concerning privilege, opportunity, liberal guilt, and a range of other issues. In addition, the play's character-based humor is accentuated by the talented ensemble cast under Kenny Leon's direction.

Santiago-Hudson provides a grounded portrayal of a confident, and seemingly easygoing man who can turn cold when those around disappoint him, or confront him in ways he's not ready to deal with.

Thoms has the showiest role in the script, and at times signals her intentions too broadly. Yet, she also brings a rich mix of vulnerability and anger to her characterization. Phifer has a powerful presence that contains a hint of danger, while Hill is likable as the most sensitive of the LeVay men. Benton's Kimber, who comes from an equally wealthy background as the LeVays, evidences a strong will mixed in with a trace of condescension and a genuine sense of empathy.

Still, the most impressive performance is given by Rashad, who conveys so much with a mere shift in body position or vocal tone. The actress has an emotional grounding for her role that feels real, and also a wonderful sense of comic timing.

Stick Fly is being produced on Broadway by 14-time Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keys, who has also written instrumental music for the show that is mostly used at the beginning of each act and between scenes. The music is catchy and has a good beat, but it calls attention to itself by going on longer than is warranted, thereby disrupting the momentum of this otherwise fine production.