'Stick Fly' offers characters to ponder
The program note for "Stick Fly" sets Lydia R. Diamond's rich but diffuse drama about a black family on Martha's Vineyard, 2005 -- then adds these important words: "Not Oak Bluffs."
As members of the LeVay family would be quick to point out, the grand Victoriana home (designed by David Gallo) is on the white part of the island -- not Oak Bluffs, where most of the other affluent blacks still spend their summers.
It is a small detail, but a significant one for Diamond's unpredictable characters, educated professionals who, despite their accomplishments, seldom wear their achievements with the casual indifference of belonging. Much of the lengthy exposition -- the homecoming of two sons and their girlfriends, plus a mother mysteriously gone -- is spent establishing everyone's credentials. Soon living room chatter turns into name dropping of intellectual and racial sociology.
For a while, it is hard to know whether Diamond is satirizing the pomposity of these people. Ultimately, I think not. And, as we observe the father and sons' rudeness to the adult daughter of their ailing housekeeper, we question whether we can care about their issues at all. This is a tougher call.
What is stimulating here is not the familiar plot, with its requisite family secrets and its melodramatic outbursts, or first-time producer Alicia Keys' extraneous incidental music.
Rather, the draw is the characters, especially these fascinating women, who become increasingly provocative and complex as relationships unwind.
Also, Kenny Leon directs six fine actors -- including the superb Condola Rashad as the quietly seething maid's daughter with ambitions, Dulé Hill as the son who'd rather be a novelist than a lawyer, Mekhi Phifer as his brother the womanizing plastic surgeon and Ruben Santiago-Hudson as the patriarch, a neurosurgeon, whose ordinary-dad criticisms mask real menace.
Tracie Thoms and Rosie Benton reveal layers of flinty contradictions as the sons' girlfriends, one black and one white, both with plenty to say about life we haven't heard before.
There's a tight, bright, nasty 90-minute play lurking in this sprawling 2¾-hour work, named after an etymological practice of gluing fast-moving flies on sticks to be magnified. Stuck under a less-than-perfect microscope, they still move.
WHAT "Stick Fly"
WHERE Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
INFO $35-$131.50; 212-239-6200; stickflybroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Diffuse plot but rich characters