Friday, August 29, 2014

Reasonably Fly: "Stick Fly" Runs Through Sept. 14 at the Hattiloo Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 1:48 PM

Bertram Williams, Emmanuel McKinney, Jai Johnson and Venise Settles in Stick Fly
  • Bertram Williams, Emmanuel McKinney, Jai Johnson and Venise Settles in "Stick Fly"

God, how I love that new theater smell. And so far I love just about everything else about the new Hattiloo too, from the lobby experience, to theater seats that don’t turn into torture devices halfway through a long show. There’s also a lot to love about Stick Fly, the Hattiloo’s second production in its new digs, although Lydia R. Diamond’s promising drama is plagued by pacing issues, and a the same kinds of lighting glitches that have always marred Hattiloo productions.

It’s ironic how Stick Fly aims for subtlety while spelling out all its formal conceits by inserting subtext directly into the mouths of the play’s childish but well-educated characters. Angry shouting confrontations are artificial devices, we're told as Kent “Spoon” LeVay, a young, gadfly of means discusses narrative strategies in his soon to be published novel. It’s a message directly from the playwright and viewer expectations should be adjusted accordingly. Likewise, the show’s title is explained in detail in a conversation between Taylor, the young entomologist and Joe, a randy older neurosurgeon. It suggests that audiences might take a more cerebral and less emotional look at the show's characters, like scientists monitoring flies glued to the end of a stick. Get it?

Stick Fly is an inverted Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner for a generation that fancies itself post-racial but isn’t. It tells the story of two brothers from an affluent African American family who bring their girlfriends—one black, one white— home for a long weekend where things are said and secrets exposed.

Director Erma Elzy allows too much time to elapse between scenes and what should be a superior show oozes along at a monotonous pace.

Jai Johnson and Emmanuel McKinney are both engaging as young lovers Taylor and Spoon. So to are Hattiloo vet Bertram Williams and Kilby Yarbrough as Flip and Kimber, the play’s slightly older interracial couple.

The evening’s best moments come courtesy of Venise Settles, who plays Cheryl, the daughter of the family maid whose mother has just dropped a bombshell. Settles is the kind of performer who never has to say a word, everything you need to know can be read in her posture and in her eyes. She’s a scene-stealer in a play filled with accomplished performers doing very good work.

Stick Fly is at the Hattiloo through September 14.

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