Stick Fly, the new comedy about a wealthy African-American family perched atop the American dream, marks the Broadway debut of playwright Lydia R. Diamond, whose play has been generating buzz throughout the American regional theatre scene.
Set during a summer weekend in the LeVay family's vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, Stick Fly lifts its title from the way entomologists study fast-flying insects: by gluing a stick to them in order to clearly observe flight patterns.
In this case, Diamond is putting the LeVay family and their guests under the microscope. "I get to know [the characters] really well, then I put them in rooms with each other and they kind of tell their own stories," says Diamond.
The males of the LeVay species have more colorful occupations: Dad (Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson) is a neurosurgeon, and sons Kent (Dulé Hill) and Flip (Mekhi Phifer) are a writer and plastic surgeon, respectively. But the experiment really gets going when the guys arrive with their girlfriends in tow, one of whom is a white inner-city teacher named Kimber (Rosie Benton) and the other a black entomologist named Taylor (Tracie Thoms), who hails from a lower-class upbringing. With Stick Fly, Diamond gives audiences a peek into the world of the African-American elite, a population not often portrayed on stage or screen. "This play is so much about class," she explains, "especially my orientation to class as one who is often right on the margins or right on the peripheries of converging class realities."
Elements of Diamond's own family dynamic surfaced in her play, which offers themes of identity, belonging and, ultimately, that universal thing called family. "The subjects that come up very naturally, and often in a funny way, are the kind of topics that my family deals with."
Stick Fly was supposed to be a distraction for Diamond, who started the play in the middle of writing Voyeurs de Venus, a drama about an African-American scholar struggling with her racial identity. "I took this play on rather cavalierly," Diamond says with a laugh. "I thought, 'I'll write something that's totally fun.' Having never written a play that was so traditionally structured, I mistakenly thought it would be easier!"
Diamond, who came to playwriting as an actor, did not immediately identify as a writer. "I saw that there were roles I didn't have before me to play," she recalls. "I wanted to put contemporary, complicated, flawed, funny women on stage.... People from diverse classes, with all kinds of gender identifications, sexual orientations and races."
Critics and audiences are also responding to Diamond's stage vision. Between its 2006 debut at Chicago's Congo Square Theatre Company and its Broadway debut, Stick Fly acquired a garland of critical praise in regional productions at the Huntington Theatre Company (in Boston), Arena Stage (Washington, DC) and the McCarter Theatre (Princeton, NJ).
"We are now seeing that audiences of all races appreciate a well-told story in which they are reflected," Diamond says of Stick Fly's Broadway arrival. "It doesn't feel like it's rocket science, but it does seem like it's taken us a while to know and respect the commercial viability of telling a range of stories."