For a play primarily about family drama, a solo hip hop routine to Usher’s "Yeah" feat. Lil Jon might feel out of place as a way to begin - although undeniably fun. Cheryl, the housemaid, prepares the house for the arriving guests and unabashedly flaunts and shakes her stuff while tearing off furniture covers and washing linens. Although not immediately obvious, this dance routine sets the tone for what’s to come in many ways: family secrets will mix with discussions on the intersection of class and culture to create a captivating dance of debate and mystery. Stick Fly is like a Rubik's Cube on a roller coaster, yet a nuanced trip that will leave you with your jaw on the floor.
Stick Fly follows the reunion of an elite black family at their summer home in Martha’s Vineyard. The two sons, Flip and Kent, return to introduce their significant others to their father, Joe, who is the archetypal patriarch of the family. Upon their reunion, though, something is off. The meeting is fraught with subtext that implies hidden histories between the group, and questions regarding where mom is are repeatedly deflected. Something is amiss, and after a few drinks, heated debates, and late night encounters, the edifice begins crumbling down.
In the first act, the most pleasant surprise comes from the three dimensional discussions that occur between the family and their guests. Arguments on the intersectionalities of race, upbringing, and class create the platform for incredibly smart dialogues that are atypical of standard family drama fair. These discussions go a long way to give gravity to the entire narrative, and even further highlight the inconsistencies between what each character says over cocktails versus how they treat others in reality. The writing here is so stellar you can't afford to tune out for any of the dialogue; almost every scene contains a line or more that leaves an impression.
The ensemble is beyond talented, breathing life and nuance into each character as they defend their actions and argue their points. The power of the debate is only as good as it’s debaters, and Writers Theatre has put together an absolutely all-star cast. The passion, timing, and range of each actor is a sight to behold, and the ensemble absolutely shimmers when the family begins to fall apart.
Given the sheer scope of everything the play tries to tackle (a family mystery wrapped in a myriad of social debates), it is only natural that not all developments resolve in a satisfying way. Not every character receives a satisfying conclusion, and not every point gets a satisfying antithesis. However, these are outliers in an otherwise fantastic production.
Featuring world-class acting and staging, Stick Fly is a gem of a show that will stir your thoughts while keeping you on the edge of your seat. (Ryan Moore)
Highly Recommended ★★★★
Stick Fly continues at Writers Theatre through March 15. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
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