Encore Michigan

‘Stick Fly’ at The Meadow Brook is relationships, race and rich people

Review March 24, 2019 Amy J. Parrent

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich.–The people we meet in the play Stick Fly have gathered for a long weekend at Martha’s Vineyard, where they have a lot to unpack. And I’m not speaking of their luggage.

Michigan native Lydia R. Diamond’s excellent play, performed by a superb cast at Meadow Brook Theatre, explores fraught relationships through vividly drawn characters, with great drama and humor.  

The story, written and set in the early 2000s, centers on an affluent African-American family. But it’s a mirror of every family, with an added frisson of navigating relationships among the economic divide and diversity of America. In other words, it’s a timeless, universal tale.

The comic drama plays out on a spacious summer home setting by Jen Price Fick. That set, along with costumes by Karen Kangas-Preston, contribute to the feel of casual wealth this family enjoys, while Scott Ross’ lighting design enables quick cinematic changes of focus even across different sequences played out simultaneously.

The group assembled at the house includes two very different brothers, Flip and Kent, their demanding but distant father, Joseph, a young black woman, Cheryl, who’s working for them, and the brothers’ two girlfriends, Taylor and Kimber.

Kent’s girlfriend Taylor was the daughter of another prominent black man, a fact that impresses the patriarch of this family. (Even though we learn that Taylor’s famous father gave her his name, and not much more.)  Older son Flip’s girlfriend, Kimber, is a white woman who teaches inner-city Latinx and black kids.

Because of Kimber, for a brief time early in the play, it seems that we might be headed for a sort of reverse “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” Racial issues are, of course, one thread weaving throughout the fabric of the show. But as the weekend plays out, the confrontations will touch on economic privilege, fame and success, complicated sexual/ romantic relationships and the equally challenging dynamics between parents and their adult children.

Guided by guest director Benjamin Sterling Cannon, the cast is, for the most part, very much on top of their game on opening night, traveling easily around the tight turns of angry outbursts, intense intimacy, and bons mots. If this play were recorded, each performer had their share of highlight reel moments.

Gary-Kayi Fletcher commanded the stage as the older son Flip, a womanizing plastic surgeon. Tyrick Wiltez-Jones (who did double duty as assistant director of the show) is the more sensitive man, Kent, trying to convince his girlfriend he’s in it for the long haul. 

Brianna Gibson Reeves handles some of the show’s most emotional fireworks as that woman, Taylor. Still bitter over the lack of love – and money – from her estranged father, wanting to be loved by this new family, she stomps her way through a minefield of moments.

Dani Cochrane hits the right notes as Kimber, the woman raised by affluent, bigoted WASPs, as she moves from casual relationship to more serious commitment with Flip, a difficult man who doesn’t want to commit.

Kendra Holloway is charming and moving as Cheryl, the teenager who discovers, to great anger and anguish, that her life is not at all what it had seemed.  And Lorenzo Scott is the head of the family, a guy you all know, the success who wants to keep it all in check, all on the surface. From his point of view, he provided for his kids, and isn’t that enough?

For the tens of millions in America who don’t have economic security, being able to afford an Ivy League education and the beautiful summer place – and the Aspen house also alluded to – is indeed all to be envied. But no, the play reminds us in gripping terms, even all that is not enough. Avoiding a negative balance in your personal life is what we all should pursue.

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