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In his engaging new book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, Touré admiringly quotes Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s census-based observation, “If there are forty million Black Americans then there are forty million ways to be Black.” Five of those ways are on display at the Cort Theatre, where Lydia R. Diamond’s dramedy Stick Fly buzzes seriocomically around race, class and gender anxieties. Produced by pop star Alicia Keys and genially staged by Kenny Leon, the play might sag in its initial and final 20 minutes and telegraph its crimes-of-the-father secret, but the script is packed with warm, brainy banter that subverts the sitcomish setup.
Diamond’s premise is your basic summer-vacation-gone-awry. We’re on Martha’s Vineyard, in the lavish beachside manse of the LeVays—a wealthy African-American family headed by neurosurgeon Joe (Ruben Santiago-Hudson). Novelist son Kent (Dulé Hill) and his plastic-surgeon brother, Flip (Mekhi Phifer), have brought along the ladies in their lives: Taylor (Tracie Thoms), an entomologist with class insecurities, and Kimber (Rosie Benton), a white social scientist whose smug declaration that she works with “inner-city kids” sets off Taylor’s bullshit detector. Watching all this PC territory-marking and status-jockeying from a deadpan remove is Cheryl (Condola Rashad, a knockout), daughter of the LeVay’s longtime maid. Soon, through a plot twist that most will see coming, Cheryl will be sucked into the vortex of the family drama.
Like a chef too fond of her ingredients and bored with the recipe, Diamond overstuffs and undercooks this rich stew of identity politics and parent-child resentments. As a result, the characters (played with grace and gusto by an appealing ensemble) give us plenty of high-attitude verbiage, but too few glimpses into their inner lives. Still, Diamond spins out lively dialogue by the yard, and it’s often fun to wriggle in her web.