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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Stick Fly

Also see Susan's review of In the Red and Brown Water

Dirty Blonde
(center) Wendell W. Wright; (clockwise from lower left) Amber Iman, Rosie Benton, Billy Eugene Jones, Jason Dirden and Nikkole Salter
Stick Fly, the current production at Arena Stage's Crystal City space in Arlington, Virginia, is a stylish if schematic look at family relationships in a setting not often seen onstage: the world of wealthy, reserved, upper-class African Americans with elegant summer homes on Martha's Vineyard. (David Gallo's lovingly detailed set offers soaring ceilings, wide doorways, a sweeping staircase and packed bookshelves, and the first thing the audience sees is a character joyously dancing as she removes dust sheets from the furniture.)

Playwright Lydia R. Diamond uses this setting to examine a whole bouquet of social conflicts, beginning with race and sex but branching out to degree of skin color, class and whether wealth is a goal in itself or a by-product of personal satisfaction. Eventually it all gets bogged down in words, but most of the way is an enjoyable ride.

The patriarch, Joe LeVay (Wendell W. Wright), is a neurosurgeon who married into a more socially prominent family and, underneath his charm, still resents being considered an arriviste. He's a smiling petty dictator around his sons: Flip (Billy Eugene Jones), a wealthy cosmetic surgeon who tends to think of women as accessories, and Kent (Jason Dirden), who has had several false starts in life but now has finished a novel and thinks he knows where he's going.

The play traces a summer weekend when both sons come to visit. Kent brings his fiancée Taylor (Nikkole Salter), daughter of a renowned cultural anthropologist and herself an entomologist who likes to examine the local specimens wherever she goes (symbolism alert!), while Flip invites the white, preppy Kimber (Rosie Benton). Overseeing all of them is Cheryl (Amber Iman), the 18-year-old daughter of the family's longtime housekeeper, pressed into service by her mother's illness.

As time passes, the characters demonstrate through their interactions that, as Oscar Wilde observed, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Diamond's dialogue is packed with verbal pinwheels shooting sparks, but sometimes the playwright drops so many hints that the audience may get impatient waiting for the big revelation.

Director Kenny Leon has created a sleek, polished ensemble with his six performers. They all get their moments to shine, especially the outbursts from Salter and Iman, but Benton's facial expressions in one confrontation scene are priceless.

Arena Stage
Stick Fly January 1st – February 7th
By Lydia R. Diamond
Kimber: Rosie Benton
Kent (Spoon): Jason Dirden
Cheryl: Amber Iman
Flip: Billy Eugene Jones
Taylor: Nikkole Salter
Joe LeVay: Wendell W. Wright
Directed by Kenny Leon
1800 S. Bell St.
Arlington, VA 22202
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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