PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Stick Fly Entomologist on a Hot Tin Roof

By Harry Haun
09 Dec 2011

Ruben Santiago-Hudson; guests Taraji P. Henson, Jaleel White and Phylicia Rashad
Ruben Santiago-Hudson; guests Taraji P. Henson, Jaleel White and Phylicia Rashad
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of Lydia R. Diamond's family comedy Stick Fly.

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Stick fly, as any of us entomologists can tell you, is a way we have of tracking the flight patterns of fast-flying insects: by gluing a stick to them. Lydia R. Diamond's use of this term for the title of her first Broadway play, which bowed Dec. 8 at the Cort Theatre, is quite clever and completely apt.

No flies are hurt during this production, but plenty of bruised egos and frayed nerves result from exposure to a professional entomologist in the house over a noisy and decidedly newsy three-day summer weekend at Martha's Vineyard.



Her name is Taylor (Tracie Thoms), and all those years spent inspecting insects under a microscope have given her an unfailing flair for alienating people — bugging them, if you must — in record time, even when she's shooting for her best-behavior mode. As they used to say about Jayne Mansfield, the girl can't help it.

As designed by the always-thorough and fun David Gallo, this summer place has the look — and wears the casually expensive bric-a-bric — of the rich and famous. It belongs to an affluent African American family, although the lady of the manor who inherited it is (for reasons entirely too complicated to go into) mercifully M.I.A. The only other thing missing is a sign that says "Herman Cain Slept Here."

Patriarch of the place is Joe LeVay (Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a top-level neurosurgeon and all-round stick-(fly)-in-the-mud who spends his time, not un-wisely, tuning out the turbulence around him. Most of it is Taylor-made, but two overlapping love-triangles also surface — and this is a small cast of characters.

Both LeVay sons are present, with prospective partners in tow. Flip (Mekhi Phifer), a chip off the old block and plastic surgeon, has invited Kimber (Rosie Benton), a Caucasian he prefers to identify as an Italian. Spoon (Dulé Hill), the mama's boy and sensitive novelist, is elected the Taylor-trainer. And let's not forget — although the characters do — the maid-for-the-weekend, Cheryl (Condola Rashad), who's subbing for her mama, the regular help.

Comedy and conflict are the games of the day, with Parcheesi and Scrabble finishing a distant second. Diamond keeps her characters hopping with a full arsenal of zingers and stingers. It has to be said the opening-night crowd had a happy ride, thanks to director Kenny Leon. Grammy winner Alicia Keys punctuated the proceedings with musical doodling for scene changes — and paid for the privilege, pitching in with lead producer Nelle Nugent.

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Tracie Thoms
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Funniest sight of the night came after the play when staid, seasoned first-nighters lined up along West 47th Street to be fitted for, arguably, their first after-party wristbands — yellow Stick Fly strips that gained them admission to the split-level merriment inside The Copacabana. After press grilling and paparazzi popping on the second floor, celebs and creatives marched upstairs for an even louder bash.

Director Leon was taking bows for bringing his second Broadway-debuting playwright to the fore this season — Diamond follows The Mountaintop's Katori Hall — and he hopes to import more. "I believe in the original-theatre movement," he admitted, "and a lot of these writers are out there. Lydia has been around for many, many years — in places like Chicago and Atlanta and Boston.

"I directed Stick Fly in Boston and at Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and I've read a lot of her plays. She's a talented woman. It's great to hear the voices of the Katori Halls, the Lydia Diamonds, the Lynn Nottages of the world. They're not great just because they're African-American writers. They're great because they're great writers, and I want to see more of that on Broadway."

He knew right away Stick Fly needed to be in that number. "I was attracted to this particular play because it had a perfect balance of humor and drama," he said. "Plus, she put those words in the mouths of [the] African-American upper-class. We never see stories about them. I don't think we ever have before. I think it's revolutionary. I think it's a game-change. It was a great way to share with the world that they're no different than you are. This is a very universal play about family, and this beautiful cast pulled off something that is hardly ever done. Usually, something is very funny or very sad. With this play, you're laughing one minute and crying the next."

 Continued...