"Stick Fly," a play about complicated relationships, proves that when the family gathers we all fall into all too familiar patterns.
And time, as it can when listening to a relative tell the same story for the 68th time, seems to stand still. At over two-and-a-half hours, this play has those moments, when time does seem to stand still. A leisurely story told well or a story with tremendous drama can fill that amount of time. This doesn't.
The essence of Lydia R. Diamond's play at the Cort Theatre has two adult brothers return to their family's country home for a weekend, each bringing a girlfriend. During the weekend, secrets are revealed, old wounds revisited and new wounds created. They talk about racism, gender differences and responsibility, and though each topic is important, it does become preachy.
The play, a drama with a few funny lines, has some heavy hitters behind the scenes and on stage. Alicia Keys, a producer, composed music for this, which is played repeatedly before the curtain rises. Kenny Leon, who also has " The Moutaintop" on Broadway, directs.
And on stage, the three men are very familiar. Dule Hill ("The West Wing," "Psych") is the younger brother, Kent, to Mekhi Phifer's ("E.R.") Harold. Kent is tentative and sensitive while Harold thinks the sun rises on his right shoulder and sets on his left. Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who wrote and performed "Lackawanna Blues," plays their dad, Joe.
Santiago-Hudson is one of those actors who just by being in a scene -- even if he is supposed to be napping -- makes it better. Phifer is excellent as the arrogant doctor who knows all he wants is within reach. Hill, as a dilettante who has earned degrees in law, business and sociology, just never seems to fully inhabit his character.
The brothers arrive at their parents' amazing house on Martha's Vineyard. Their mother's ancestor was a ship captain who saved a mayor's son in a boating accident and the land was given to the family, making them the first black land owners on the vineyard. The family has other houses and everyone is extremely accomplished, their impressive credentials trotted out often.
We don't meet the mother, whose absence is obvious; the reason for it is told in the second half. Kent, who is also called Spoon, arrives first with girlfriend Taylor ( Tracie Thoms), an emotionally needy entomologist who bops around with a net looking for insects. It's her passion for putting flies on sticks that gives the play its title, though the symbolism isn't explored as much as it could be.
At least the dad is happy to welcome a beautiful, brainy black woman into the family.
Harold, also known as Flip, tells his family he is bringing home an Italian woman, but Kimber ( Rosie Benton) is "straight-up WASP" as she explains. She works in the ghetto, and gets a few good lines.
But the best lines belong to Cheryl ( Condola Rashad). She plays the daughter of the family's longtime housekeeper, who is sick and not seen. Cheryl, anxious about college, waits on these over-privileged people and knows way more than anyone gives her credit.
In the hands of a lesser actress, this could have been a finger-snapping, hip-rolling part, but Rashad infuses Cheryl with intelligence, dignity and grace. For a Broadway debut, one can only imagine that she's making her mother, Phylicia Rashad, pretty proud.
Photo/Video credit: Richard Termine