Why ‘Stick Fly’ Is Must-See Theater

Set in Martha's Vineyard, the Broadway play takes a stereotype-free look at black family life.

Courtesy of Richard Termine
Courtesy of Richard Termine

Telling a “black” story that is free of stereotypes can be the most elusive project to undertake. When the story being told reflects the lives of the black elite, the challenges become even more daunting. This is why Stick Fly, at the Cort Theatre on Broadway, is such a hauntingly successful surprise. Well, in a way. When you take a moment to look at the making of this project, it makes sense that it would be better than good.

The writer, Lydia R. Diamond, proves herself to be smart, knowledgeable and pretty much great at storytelling. Veteran director Kenny Leon, who also helmed The Mountaintop — which is currently running on Broadway — displays a masterful command of the material and the actors. The ensemble cast? In a word: stellar.

For me, the telling sign is the fuel behind the Broadway production: Alicia Keys. I worked with her years ago, right before she launched her musical career. I remember from the day we met that she was driven to perfection. She didn’t do things halfway. She gave each project her all, studying until she mastered whatever task was before her, not accepting anything that didn’t resonate within her. Even more, Alicia always appreciated subtlety, even when she was new to the game.

So, for her to be the driving force — as a producer and as the composer of the music performed during the play — behind a writer’s dream to make it to the Great White Way makes sense.

And trust that she, the story and the cast do not disappoint. Stick Fly is set in a classically elite area of the country where blacks have also shared space for years: Martha’s Vineyard. While commonly envisioned as an idyllic location, in this case it is the setting for the unfurling of secrets from years of familial pain. It also becomes the epicenter of an alcohol-infused conversation that strips away stereotypes and unmasks both racist and confused beliefs about values and integrity.

Without giving too much away, the story is about two brothers — played by Dulé Hill (Psych) and Mekhi Phifer (ER, Soul Food) — who decide to bring home the women in their lives to meet the family. What happens afterward forces the family to face conflicts about its past and come to grips with how grown children are living their lives.