Strong performances define Writers Theatre's revival of 'Stick Fly'
"Stick Fly" -- ★ ★ ★
Issues of class and race figure prominently in Lydia R. Diamond's "Stick Fly," a 2006 domestic drama that is currently running at Writers Theatre.
It's about an affluent African-American family and the lower middle-class woman about to marry into it. But what really animates Diamond's clever, discerning play is the often-fraught relationships between fathers and their children and the resentments that result.
The year is 2005. The place is the comfortably upscale Martha's Vineyard summer home belonging to the LeVay family, prominent, wealthy African-Americans whose sons have chosen this weekend to introduce their parents to the women in their lives.
First to arrive is the easygoing, younger brother Kent (Eric Gerard), a perpetual student who seems to have found his calling as a writer. He's accompanied by his fiancé Taylor (Jennifer Latimore), an entomologist. Raised by her single, college professor mother after her father -- a famous author and academic -- abandoned them, Taylor grew up lower middle-class and is more than a little intimidated by the LeVay's wealth.
Older brother and favorite son Flip (DiMonte Henning) is a plastic surgeon who's dating Kimber (Kayla Raelle Holder), a wealthy, self-described "straight-up WASP" who majored in political science, minored in African-American studies and teaches at an inner-city school.
College-bound Cheryl, played by the magnetic Ayanna Bria Bakari, is there to fill in for her ailing mother, the LeVay's longtime maid. We first encounter Cheryl dancing ecstatically while readying the house for the family's arrival. Her behavior suggests a young woman entirely comfortable with herself and her place in the home where she was practically raised.
Family patriarch Joseph (David Alan Anderson) is the last to arrive. He's a renowned neurosurgeon whose wife, the boys' mother, is due the next day.
It doesn't take long for old resentments to surface, along with some family secrets. Friendly, well-mannered exchanges don't entirely mask the tension between family members and their guests. Before long, the conversation turns to class and race, the advantages that accompany wealth and the privilege associated with being Caucasian.
There's also criticism about career choices, challenges to long-held notions and disclosures about the past, which lead to the climax that Diamond teases early on.
Despite the requisite revelations that make it feel like a TV drama, "Stick Fly" (whose title references the way researchers observe insects) is a smart play with nicely nuanced female characters.
Indeed, Latimore, Bakari and Holder deliver the most compelling performances in director Ron OJ Parson's discrete and subtle production.
A 2017 DePaul University graduate, Bakari's performance is an ideal combination of vulnerability and strength. Terrific as a teen sophisticated beyond her years who's not above throwing a little passive-aggressive shade on newcomers, Bakari had the audience eating out of her hand the moment she stepped onto the stage.
Latimore's conflicted Taylor is the heart of this family, even though she's not yet a member. Latimore's impassioned, fiercely intelligent, soul-bearing performance made me ache for Taylor. It's that deeply felt.
From Parson and Diamond, I'd expect nothing less.
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Location: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, (847) 242-6000 or writerstheatre.org
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday through March 15. Also 3 p.m. Feb. 26 and March 11. No 6 p.m. performances March 1 and 15.
Running time: About 2 hours 45 minutes, including intermission
Parking: Free street parking
Rating: Suitable for teens and older, some strong language