The Huntington’s Stick Fly – regional theater scores again

“ All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” according to Leo Tolstoy. Stick Fly, the latest Huntington Theatre production (at the Boston Center for the Arts) uses a weekend family gathering to talk about race, class, gender, and complicated family dynamics – all the heavy stuff – but it is so laced through with wit and humor that it is fun rather than a heavy sociological treatise.

It has been called a comedy of manners, but it is so much more. Rather than simply satirizing the customs and manners of a particular class of people and leaving it at that (think Noel Coward), Stick Fly inspects the issues, tensions, insecurities, peccadilloes, hurts and secrets of this family as one might study an insect or butterfly and learn something about a species. We are all drawn in on one issue or another.

Stick Fly is about a well-to-do black family, gathering in its home on The Vineyard. Note: they take some smug satisfaction that the setting is Edgartown, rather than Oak Bluffs. (The father is a neuro-surgeon. The mother is never seen.) The girlfriend of the older brother, a plastic surgeon, is WASP, a polished, educated, liberal and seemingly out to “stick it” to her stuffy family by dating a black. The fiancée of the younger son is an entymologist who, while African-American, is insecure about her own socio-economic background. The daughter of the maid, who is also never seen, makes a revelation about her place in the family’s history that is the springboard for the other characters to reveal themselves in their relationships to the others.

Playwright Lydia Diamond deserves the praise she’s received. The first act, which she wrote “relatively quickly” races by. Director Kenny Leon, and a stellar cast including Nikkole Salter, Jason Dirden, Amber Iman, Billy Eugene Jones, Wendell Wright and Rosie Benton, clearly benefited from an earlier Washington, DC run and made this production polished from the start. The pregnant silences, finely tuned facial expressions and carefully wrought non-verbal gestures are as compelling as the language. All three women are especially good in their respective roles. Louise Kennedy’s review in today’s Boston Globe is superb in  itself.

The bottom line is that fine acting, humor that delivers again and again, rich set design, and nuanced direction all make Stick Fly a really worthwhile theater experience. [It runs through March 21 at the Wimberly Theater.]

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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