Saturday, February 18, 2012

Stick Fly @ The Cort Theatre

In a mansion in Martha’s Vineyard resides the LeVay family.  Secrets run high as class, race, and the justices of the world are thrown around as Lydia R. Diamond’s Stick Fly unfolds.  With a predictable script and lack luster acting, this new piece from producer Alicia Keys does not dazzle as much as one might hope that it would; however, even with that said, this new dramedy does not fall completely on its face.  Running now at the Cort Theatre through February 26, 2012, Stick Fly might be worth the price of a cheaper ticket.

With his new fiancé Taylor in hand, Kent LeVay returns home to show off his both his love and his new book that has just been picked up by a publishing company.  Not too long after, his brother, Harold, returns home with news of his new fling.  It soon becomes clear that Taylor and Harold have meet before, and the awkward tension does even begin to end there.  Just before dinner Joe LeVay makes his way up to the house; however, Mrs. LeVay is mysteriously absent.  Trying to not think the worst, the family moves on and quickly gets heated on topics of race and social economics when Harold’s new squeeze turns out to be white and not African American like the rest of the LeVay family.  While this banter is fun, it soon becomes clear that the maid, Cheryl, has a secret of her own to let lose; and, once revealed family bonds and relationships are pushed to the max for the LeVay family.

This ensemble of six, while portraying a family, never fully seems to gel on stage.  This problem could be contributed to the lackluster performances from the male ensemble.  Led by Dulé Hill (television’s Psych) and Mekhi Phifer (television’s ER) as the LeVay brothers, this piece does not feel to have the drive that it needs.  Hill plays Kent, the brother that is a mess up in the eyes of their father.  His performance felt pushed - forcing relationships and emotions.  Hill never really felt to connect to those around him and the text provided.  Phifer faced many of the same problems while playing Harold, the eldest brother who became a shining star doctor in the eyes of their father.  It felt as if he was always pushing for the joke as opposed to finding the truth in the scene.  While Hill and Phifer are respectable actors, they seem to never find their niche here on stage.  Concluding the male cast is Ruben Santiago-Hudson (Tony Award winner for Seven Guitars) as the all powerful head of the family.  Santiago-Hudson lands several scenes with perfection; however, in the final crucial moments of the piece he does not seem to commit to the actions required of him.  These lackluster male performances allow the females to shine throughout the entire piece.  Taylor, the nervous fiancé, is portrayed by Tracie Thoms of both Broadway and film RENT fame.  Thoms fully commits to each moment - being witty, smart, and sexy.  Her scenes are filled with humor and heart forcing the audience to be on her side from start to finish.  Feeding into Taylor’s crazy antics is Kimber, Harold’s new fling, played by Rosie Benton (Roundabout Theatre’s Les Liaisons Dangereuses).  Benton takes hold of her scenes moving group scenes along with wit and grace.  She does a wonderful job of trying to gel the ensemble together - a job that should never have been left to one woman.  Rounding out the cast is the beautiful Condola Rashad making her Broadway debut.  Rashad is light on her feet, has perfect comedic timing, and is an absolute joy to watch.  She is definitely an extremely talented young actress to look out for in years to come.  While split three and three, Stick Fly is one hundred percent a woman’s show.

This new piece from playwright Lydia R. Diamond (The Bluest Eye) is written really well; however, is over all really predictable.  The plot twists are not so much twists as “I totally saw that coming” moments - leaving the piece funny but not overly shocking.  The production team does not work together to make the piece feel like one over all piece that works together.  The scenic design by David Gallo (The Mountaintop), while gorgeous to look at, is not practical to the callings of the script - with most of the main action taking place in a small area far away from the audience.  This problem causes a strong disconnect from audience.  Lighting the space is designer Beverly Emmons (Tony Award winner for Amadeus).  The lighting caused strong problems with focus - often having the least important character in the brightest light, thus causing problems for the audience’s eye.  Providing the score for this piece is Grammy Award winner Alicia Keys.  The original score is perfect for the piece with upbeat tempos and fun rhythms; however, it was misused by director Kenny Leon (Fences).  While the piece was direct well with nice flow for the actors, the tempo of the overall piece was slow and never really took off; leaving plenty of time for the audience to notice the flaws in design and acting.

Stick Fly is built up as this tale of a family with a bunch of skeletons in the closet, and, while secrets are revealed, they are not so much skeletons as they are dust particles.  While the males and design never fully come together in unison, the women are a true delight on stage - making Stick Fly an okay production to watch.

Review By: Tom Garvin

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