A summer weekend at Martha's Vineyard sounds like a relaxing time, but in Lydia Diamond's "Stick Fly," it's anything but. Now playing at the Duncan YMCA, a picturesque weekend gives way to racial tension, family dysfunction, name calling and past sins.
On the Congo Square Theater's beautifully appointed and angular summer cottage stage design, Diamond doesn't allow her characters to escape from real-life issues as they run off for a summer weekend among the black elite on the Vineyard. The play's main character, Taylor (Ann Johnson), has a life history of not fitting in; as a cast-off daughter of an important yet detached author, she lets her separation issues nearly dictate her adult insecurities.
Taylor is vocal in her quick-to-judge views, wavering between feelings of superiority and inferiority in her dealings with Joseph, the head of the wealthy family (Phillip Edward Van Lear), her fiancé Spoon (Daniel Bryant), and the brother Flip (something of a cad, played by Aaron Todd Douglas). The key element missing is the matriarch of this family, who is revered and talked about but never revealed.
In what could be an alter-ego role for the author, Taylor openly attacks many racial issues throughout the weekend and launches an all-out assault on Kimber (Anne Roche), the white girlfriend of Flip. Kimber holds her own quite well, and never plays the victim. Both Taylor and Kimber are looked upon with disdain by a black housekeeper Cheryl (the spirited Ericka Ratcliff) who definitely has an axe to grind due to her sheer exasperation with the other women in the house. Lurking behind the obvious family tension is a dark family secret.
Visually, both scenic designer Dustin Efird and lighting designer Benny Gomes help recreate a lazy summer feel with moonlight on the porch in the evening and a soft summer sun setting just outside the windows. Director Chuck Smith also adds a creative element as actors remain in character and talk in the darkness as scenes and settings change.
As springtime heats up and we look forward to warm relaxing summer weekends, "Stick Fly" doesn’t let us forget that even in the most idyllic settings, and among the most gentle of people, conflict and strife still buzz around us like bees near honey.
Playing at the Duncan YMCA; 1001 W. Roosevelt Rd.; (312) 587-2292; $25. Running through April 15; 8 p.m. (& 11 a.m. on April 6) Thursday-Friday; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.