The Broadway Blog expands coverage and heads south of the Great White Way to see what family drama we can dig up in Philadelphia, courtesy of contributor Kathe Scullion.
When the character of Cheryl enters with her feather duster and dances around the solid white living room, pausing to kiss one of the family pictures on the mantel while half-singing half-housekeeping, I wondered if the character was the lovable maid who gets away with incompetence or the privileged daughter who has been cajoled into minor family chores. The expert blend of Lydia Diamond’s writing, Joniece Abbott-Pratt’s acting and Walter Dallas’ direction is launched with understatement and one of the elements too rarely offered by contemporary writers: foreshadowing.
The stage was set for a stimulating evening at the Arden Theatre. Stick Fly is the story of the affluent LeVay family: Joseph, a neurosurgeon; Flip his plastic surgeon 36-year-old son; and Kent, the younger, highly degreed soon-to-be published writer whose point of view pierces the stunted insights of his father and brother. They have gathered for the weekend in their ordered home, complete with Romare Bearden painting over the mantel, signaling, the way Bill Cosby did in his sitcom, that this is the home of affluent African-Americans. Although the characters are at odds with each other in predictable ways, solid acting by Jerome Preston Bates as Joseph, Biko Eisen-Martin as Kent and U.R. as Flip prepares the audience for moments of surprising strength: Bates is powerful when he gestures in silence and the brothers are intriguing when they are with their women.
A lesser playwright would have offered two lovers of the sons as accessories. Diamond dares to introduce two women who are the soloists in the dramatic symphony. Jessica Frances Dukes plays Taylor, the tumultuous fiancée of Kent. Dukes delivers an articulate, scarred and cloying gal who manages to convince us that the outbursts she has are crucial. She has to wake the other characters up.
Flip’s girlfriend, Kimber, played by Julianna Zinkel, is an intellectual and emotional match for Taylor. They banter, explode, inform each other and forgive. Kimber is an idealistic realist. She loves Flip, knows he is a philandering carbon copy of his father and relishes her status as the white Wasp observer of the black family who managed to make it from the bluffs of Martha’s Vineyard “where the rest of the black folks are” to the Whitcomb Estate. Cheryl’s presence takes some twists and turns in Act 2 as “Stick Fly” ultimately rollicks, wrestles and delivers a compelling snapshot of modern family drama.
Arden Theatre Company
Arcadia Stage, 40 North 2nd Street
Through December 22
Kathe Scullion is a Philadelphia/New York based writer with a former career in New York theater. M.F.A. Columbia University