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Review: 'Stick Fly' at Matrix Theatre

April 23, 2009 | 12:37 pm

Stick-Fly_1sm The luxurious beachside home of the LeVay family on Martha’s Vineyard bespeaks old money and cultural refinement.  However, don’t let the A.R. Gurney trappings of Lydia R. Diamond’s  “Stick Fly,” now at the Matrix Theatre, deceive you. No tale of WASP angst, Diamond’s sprawling drama gives a fascinating perspective on a privileged African American family, as seen from the very top of the social scale.

Dr. Joseph LeVay (John Wesley), patriarch of the clan, is a self-made neurosurgeon who scrapped his way up from humble beginnings.  LeVay vaulted into the elite when he married a blueblood whose forebears were the first black landowners on the Vineyard. LeVay’s sons Kent (Chris Butler), an aspiring writer, and Flip (Terrell Tilford), a plastic surgeon, relate to their father’s tales of early privation as quaint family myth.  “I’m not sure that class matters,” observes Flip.  And Kent jokingly complains “I had Dad’s old Saab,” apparently the full extent of his youthful hardship.

But emotional travails – particularly Kent’s fractious relationship with his demanding dad – have supplanted financial concerns. Dark secrets begin to surface shortly after the arrival of Kent’s fiancée Taylor (Michole Briana White), an entomologist abandoned early on by her Pulitzer-winning father, and Flip’s white girlfriend Kimber (Avery Clyde), herself born into wealth.  At the other end of the social spectrum is Cheryl (Tinashe Kajese), teenage daughter of the family’s maid.  When a shocking revelation lances her festering resentment, poison flows freely.

Diamond’s overly discursive family drama takes some gratuitous segues into coincidence but ultimately takes on the leisureliness and heft of an August Wilson work, affording a “stick fly” on the wall peek into a unique corner of the African American experience. Shirley Jo Finney’s staging bristles with verisimilitude in every particular. Christian Epps’ shifting seaside lighting, Mitch Greenhill’s oceanic sound, Dana Woods’ subtly upscale costumes, and most particularly John Iacovelli’s lavishly detailed set, are all superb.  But Finney is first and foremost an actors’ director who has put together the optimum cast and elicited superb performances from each and every performer in her charge. The resulting ensemble crackles with intelligence and humor and rage, and we are the privileged observers of their truthfulness.

-- Kathleen Foley

“Stick Fly,” Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.  Ends May 31. $25.  (323) 960-7740.  Running time:  2 hours, 30 minutes

Caption: John Wesley and Michole Briana White in "Stick Fly." Credit: I.C. Rapoport

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