REVIEW: Meadow Brook Theatre’s ‘Stick Fly’ Dissects the Complexities of Families and Class Privilege

Life is inconvenient. It is also quite messy – especially in families where years of secrets and snubs that have been simmering under the surface come gushing topside like a geyser. Who cleans up the mess others make? What happens when we don’t like ourselves – when we’re too focused on other’s opinions of us? Meadow Brook Theatre’s current production Stick Fly endeavors to answer these questions through humor, powerful interactions, and by allowing the characters space to have frank conversations that are long overdue.

L to R: (Standing) Briana Gibson Reeves (Taylor), Lorenzo Scott (Joseph), Dani Cochrane (Kimber)

Seated) Tyrick Wiltez Jones (Kent), Kendra Holloway (Cheryl), Gary-Kayi Fletcher (Flip) star in ‘Stick Fly’ at Meadow Brook Theatre.

Photo courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

Stick Fly was written by Detroit native Lydia R. Diamond. The story takes place in 2005 on picturesque Martha’s Vineyard and centers around the affluent, African-American LeVay family. While the cast is small in numbers, they are mighty in the presence they bring to the stage. There is the patriarch Joseph (Lorenzo Scott), a neurosurgeon who has tried to give his sons only the best life has to offer. The eldest, Flip (played by MBT newcomer Gary-Kayi Fletcher) has followed in his father’s medical footsteps as an accomplished plastic surgeon. While little brother Kent’s (Tyrick Wiltez Jones) path to success hasn’t been quite as predictable, he’s finally found his calling as a budding novelist. Joining the family for what’s supposed to be a fun, meet-the-parents weekend at Whitcomb estate are Flip’s girlfriend Kimber (Dani Cochrane), Kent’s fiancée Taylor (Briana Gibson Reeves), and Cheryl (Kendra Holloway), the 18-year-old daughter of the LeVay’s longtime housekeeper.

Almost from the beginning you can tell the tensions among certain characters are multilayered and the preconceived notions are plentiful. For example, Flip keeps telling everyone Kimber is Italian; perhaps to make her sound more exotic. So, when a tall redhead with creamy white skin which a Scotswoman would kill for walks through the door, and you can imagine their surprise. Along with the fact she works with kids from inner-city schools. It also doesn’t help that initially Kimber thinks Taylor is the ‘help.’ Speaking of Taylor… her father was one of the most celebrated academics in the region (his books even grace the LeVay shelves). People are constantly telling her how wonderful and ahead of his time he was. But it’s all lost on Taylor because he abandoned her; leaving her to grow up in what she considers lower middle class. Even so, she is pursuing her post-doctorate in Entomology from John Hopkins with a focus on dipterology, the study of flies. Finally, there is Cheryl. Although young, she is whip-smart and self-assured. She is also very comfortable acting like a member of the LeVay family, while also taking care of their needs for the weekend. The person who does seem uneasy with that arraignment is Taylor, who is constantly (and awkwardly) trying to help Cheryl. Before long, all three ladies begin butting heads over issues of race and privilege.

Layered on top of this, is the issue of family. Or rather, as Kimber puts it, “What we don’t talk about in our family.” As the play progresses it becomes evident that there are the faces families put on for the public – the faces where everything is idyllic, and everyone is happy. Then there are the faces reserved solely for when families are behind closed doors. The hidden face that’s dying to speak the truth. Out of all the characters who get to speak their truth during the performance, Cheryl’s revelation is my favorite. Just as the play began with Taylor talking about her complicated father/daughter relationship, the circle closes with Cheryl being able to do the same. She spends nearly the entire play acting cheery and agreeable until the glorious moment when she’s had enough of everyone’s BS and just loses it. With Taylor looking on in the background Cheryl finally confronts the person who abandoned her with the searing words: “You were supposed to love me first and best. I deserve to be seen.” The power of her words and the symmetry of the moment gave me chills. Maybe it’s because it’s the final shoe to drop with regards to secrets. Just know that it’s an amazing release and made me want to give her a one-woman standing ovation.

L to R: Tyrick Wiltez Jones (Kent), Briana Gibson Reeves (Taylor), Gary-Kayi Fletcher (Flip), and Dani Cochrane (Kimber) get more than they bargained for during a weekend getaway in ‘Stick Fly’ at Meadow Brook Theatre.

Photos courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

This is a top-notch production. Meadow Brook Theatre touts itself as “Michigan’s Answer to Broadway,” and we are so fortunate to have access to such talent, essentially in our backyard. Every single actor wholly embodied his or her character in a way that’s rarely seen. Sure, most actors are good in their role, nailing the accent, gestures, what have you. But I believed everything each actor was selling every time a line was uttered or a move was made. They were all fully vested in the performance and that kind of authentic believability is not something you come across often. Extra kudos to Tyrick Wiltez Jones who wore the additional hat of assistant director. Even bringing in Benjamin Sterling Cannon as guest director took this production to another level. Currently, Cannon is a Professor in the Theatre and Dance department of Washington College. I felt his dance background was evident throughout the performance in the way the characters spoke, moved, and interacted with each other. For example, the kitchen scene between Flip and Taylor felt very much like a tango – passionate, intimate, and intense. Nuances like this gave the play a wonderful flow.

Recently I came across an article where Broadway actor Kelvin Moon Loh (The King and I) was quoted: “The theater to me has always been a way to examine/dissect the human experience and present it back to ourselves.” And this is exactly what Stick Fly does. Life is messy and inconvenient. And it’s OK to allow each person to see and experience that. Not every play has to be funny or give us the answers wrapped up neatly with a bow. Sometimes we just need to give ourselves permission to feel. And Stick Fly is a play that will give you the space to do so.

The play runs a little over two and a half hours with a 15-minute intermission. Because of the mature subject matter and language, this show is recommended for ages 14+.

Tickets range from $30 to $45 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or going online at www.Ticketmaster.com. Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

Stick Fly is made possible through the generous support of Extended Stay Hotels, The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, The National Endowment for the Arts, The Kresge Foundation, The Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and the Meadow Brook Theatre Guild.

Meadow Brook Theatre is located on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. For additional information, please visit www.MBTheatre.com or call 248-377-3300. Meadow Brook Theatre is a nonprofit, cultural institution serving southeast Michigan for more than 50 years.

About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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