Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson and written by Lydia R. Diamond, is set around two affluent Black siblings who bring their partners, one black and one white, to their family cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. It is at Vineyard where they are forced to confront their realities, family secrets, and class prejudices.
The trek to Glencoe in the cold might seem daunting, but the show itself is too thoughtful and poignant to miss. It doesn’t beg to be included in the theatre landscape; it carves its own way.
In the first few minutes of the show, “Yeah!” By Usher blasts through the speakers as Cheryl (Ayanna Bria Bakari) unabashedly dances around the stage. Not to mention, the fun upbeat pre-show playlist of Black artists felt carefully curated by the production team (sound by Dominique Nadeau, Christopher M. LaPorte). It was then that I knew this show would be something special. While Stick Fly was written in 2008, the show feels brand new in its conflicts and discussions of Black womanhood. The show doesn’t pander to the mainly white audience at Writers Theatre or beyond. The experience of seeing this play felt like I was heard, especially in Cheryl’s realization about the Black men in her life: “You don’t see me, but I deserve to be seen.” This is a conversation many Black women, like myself, have thought about subconsciously and discussed with their friends.
The dialogue in Stick Fly combines the funny moments of life with its hardest realities. The best part about the writing is that each character is complex. They are not perfect and their opinions can be problematic, but we feel for them anyways. The show has been done in Chicago before, because these are Black characters that are written with more extreme depth and relatability than I’ve seen in recent my memory. Specifically in Cheryl (Ayanna Bria Bakari) and in Taylor (Jennifer Latimore), who serve as each other’s mirror personalities. They are exactly opposite and the same, which makes their relationship enduring and complex. These Black women have every right to be angry at the privileges that are kept from them, but they also aren’t completely forgivable in their actions and ideologies. Yet, these characters are hurting from feeling abandoned and unseen as educated Black women. Which asks: do we have a responsibility to clean up the mess we’ve made in others?
The performances in the show are driven by a raw emotional truth, which made the stakes in the show so much higher. There were many moments when the audience audibly ooh-ed and ahh-ed as secrets and thoughts of characters were revealed. This speaks to the direction (Ron OJ Parson) of the show itself, and how thorough character intentions were developed and realized by the ensemble.
This show also has flawless sound (Christopher M. LaPorte), lighting (Claire Chrzan), and set design (Linda Buchanan), which all come together to make the show more heightened. The set consists of a large house, with paintings on the walls, and panels illuminated by backlight. This lighting design during transitions silhouette the house in a way that makes it seem haunting, especially in the second act. The props and set decoration (Rachel Watson) give further specific detail about who this family is. It’s as if the house and its symbols of affluence trap the characters. These tech elements all blend to highlight symbols and the experience of watching the show unfold.
Stick Fly asks poignant and modern questions about what it means to be Black in America, class privilege, and who and what gets to be accepted.
Stick Fly runs at Writers Theatre until March 15th.
David Alan Anderson (Joe LeVay)
Ayanna Bria Bakari (Cheryl)
Eric Gerard (Kent)
DiMonte Henning (Flip)
Kayla Raelle Holder (Kimber)
Jennifer Latimore (Taylor)
Ron OJ Parson (Director)
Lydia R. Diamond (Writer)
Linda Buchanan (Scenic Designer)
Catlin McLeod (Costume Designer)
Claire Chrzan (Lighting Designer)
Rachel Watson (Property Designer)
Christopher M. LaPorte (Sound Designer)
Dominique Nadeau (Dramaturg)
Sam Hubbard (Fight Director)
Monet Felton (Assistant Director)
Rachel Lockett (Assistant Stage Manager)
David Castellanos (Production Stage Manager)
Michael Brosilow (Photographer)