In 2017, First Floor Theater premiered Leah Nanako Winkler’s Two Mile Hollow–a send-up of what Winkler terms “white people by the water” plays, in which a wealthy clan gathers at a beach house to fight, reveal secrets, and reminisce. The catch for Winkler’s work was that the characters were all played by people of color, offering ironic counterpoint to white privilege’s ridiculous insularity.
Lydia Diamond’s Stick Fly, which had its world premiere in 2006 with Chicago’s Congo Square before eventually opening on Broadway in 2011, has some things in common with the world that Winkler parodied. But Diamond’s family is actually Black and wealthy, with long roots in Martha’s Vineyard and Romare Bearden paintings on the wall. Diamond, who grew up the daughter of an academic, has written about the collisions of class and race within and without Black families and communities in several works. In Stick Fly, now revived at Writers Theatre under Ron OJ Parson’s direction, the outlines of the traditional “well-made play” serve her well in anatomizing the subtle but hurtful hypocrisies and internalized self-loathing that keep the characters from fully connecting.
The title comes from the work that Taylor (Jennifer Latimore), an entomologist from an economically lower class, does with examining insects; they have to be secured to a stick in order to document their wing movements. But things rapidly become unglued over the course of a few days, as Taylor’s fiance Kent (Eric Gerard) faces the disdain his neurosurgeon father Joe (David Alan Anderson) has for his nascent career as a novelist, compared to the chip-off-the-old-block attitude Dad has toward his eldest, plastic surgeon Flip (DiMonte Henning), who brings Kimber (Kayla Raelle Holder), an old-school WASP, to meet the family. Meantime Cheryl (Ayanna Bria Bakari), daughter of the family maid, learns the truth about her parentage.
Diamond’s writing works against the grain of the potentially soapy plotlines, and each character gets at least one moment to burst through social constraints to reveal what they’re really thinking. (Latimore’s Taylor more than the rest.) Old history (familial and otherwise) collides with present-day realities, and by the end of Diamond’s wise and funny play (well acted across the board here), everyone’s wings have been clipped by reality. v