Wednesday, June 08, 2016

"Stick Fly" a good way for Intiman to start off summer of African-American playwrights

Tyler Trerise and Chantal DeGroat in Stick Fly (Inye Wokoma)
Stick Fly
Intiman Theatre
(at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute)
Through June 19, 2016

Intiman’s season, this summer, is a celebration of African-American women playwrights. That is a great plan! A chunk of time in the summer will be used for readings from several playwrights, and you should check the website: for times and dates and writers. They are mounting two full productions; the first is open and staging at Langston Hughes Performance Arts Institute.

Stick Fly is by Lydia R. Diamond. It notably avoids the stereotype of the poor black family, setting this family drama in a Cape Cod cottage during a family get-together. But issues of class, historic racism in the community, and absentee fathers play heavily in the script.

The upper class family we meet are a novelist son, Kent (Tyler Trerise), who wants to introduce his fiancĂ©e Taylor (Chantal DeGroat), an entomologist, and his older brother Flip (Reginald Andre Jackson), a plastic surgeon, who wants to introduce his current (though perhaps not too serious) girlfriend, inner-city teacher Kimber (Bhama Roget), who is melanin-challenged – i.e. white. They are all concerned with their father and mother accepting them, but the only parent who shows up is Dad (a bombastic portrayal by G. Valmont Thomas). Mom is missing and no one quite knows how to figure out why.

There is another missing person, the long-time housekeeper, who, we are told by her 18 year old daughter, is too ill, and sent her daughter Cheryl (Amara Granderson) to help out instead. This young woman has grown up with the family, and seems to easily manage all the household chores as if she’s been highly trained. But we learn that she’s gone to the best high school in her area, courtesy of help from Dad – pointing to his loyalty and generosity to his long-time employee.

Very early on (spoiler alert), in a phone call with her mother, Cheryl is told to “ask Dr. LeVay” to tell her something she doesn’t know. Just about anyone can easily guess that Cheryl is much more than an employee’s daughter, revealing one of the first secrets that the play is supposed to be full of.

The issues of class are raised by both the example of the hired help and the fulminations of energetic Taylor, who little by little reveals that, though she has a famous writer father, her father left her and her mother to scrape by while he created a “second family” and that she feels more akin to the housekeeper than to the upper class family. The historic racism is related by Dad, who tells about how a black family got to own a house in this exclusive neighborhood. The absentee father aspect comes out from Taylor and Cheryl, who expectedly has an awkward confrontation with Dad about her parentage.

There is much to enjoy in the script overall, but there are misses, too. It has chunky transitions, but much solid dialogue. It sometimes veers from stereotypes and other times uses them way too much. It’s too long and meandering, but with a good trimming might brighten up to a better evening.

The cast, as often happens in Seattle, is better than the material. Roget gets a lot of the smart lines, being the character who is the most “outside” the family, with the most experienced view point. Granderson is a breath of fresh air in terms of her spunky and life-loving portrayal, and her awkward teen aspirations to make contact with her “father.”

The LHPAI is not an easy space to manage a large installation, so the set (by Andrea Bush) is nicely appointed, but more modest than it might be. Sound, in particular song music, chosen by Matt Starritt, is great fun, but director Justin Emeka uses it a bit too much in scene transition, bogging down the flow. It would have been more fun if it fit more organically into the scenes themselves.

Diamond allows a look inside one specific father’s dilemma regarding including or excluding offspring, and the effect on two specific offspring who long for a father’s presence. This is part of the important conversation, but honing in a bit and paring out that that does not serve the main story would help shorten and strengthen that topic.

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