The Family Caste

The cast of “Stick Fly” Back L to R: Olivia Howard, Brandon Williams, Nina Washington, DJ Tyree Front L to R: D. Kevin Williams, Kara Davidson

The LeVay family takes a weekend getaway at their vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard.  While there, long buried animosities and secrets come to light.  This is Stick Fly and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I kept my opening paragraph intentionally brief as I want you to come watch this show and experience the dysfunction of the LeVay family.  Not only was this the best show I’ve seen all season, but it’s the best show I’ve seen in years and it easily marched its way into my personal top five.  Mark my words, this show is going to be showered with praise and accolades so let’s start it off with mine.

Lydia Diamond’s script is utterly flawless.  The story has a beautiful arc with sharp, incisive dialogue, gives each performer a moment in the spotlight, is tinged with a bit of mystery as the connections and relationships between the characters slowly take shape, and it unabashedly tackles some tough topics such as racial and class equity and the meaning of family.  It also has the greatest closing line I’ve ever heard in a play.

Words almost fail me in describing DeMone Seraphin’s direction.  It is incredible.  I was blown away by the staging which made excellent use of the LeVay home with the actors settling in and really giving it that homey, lived in quality.  His knowledge of the beats was intimate and he knew how to utilize a pregnant pause for all its worth, ratchet up tension, and perfectly paces the show.  Not only did he lead his troupe to prize-winning performances, but I was enthralled by how he used his actors when they weren’t the focus of a particular scene.  I often found myself watching them just to see how they would react and behave towards the main action or created their own stories if in a separate room away from the action.  This show has a lot of dialogue which runs the risk of being static, but Seraphin avoids that pitfall by keeping his actors moving and energized. My only minor quibble is a bit more projection is needed by some of the actors.

Kara Davidson has a stellar OCP debut as Kimber.  She’s a good person whose desire for social justice and to be in a mixed race relationship may have initially been motivated by her wish to stick it to her uptight, snooty family but has evolved into real compassion and love.  D. Kevin Williams is authoritative and flawed as Joseph LeVay, the family patriarch.  He can be gregarious and charming, but also seems to be trapped by and participates in a caste system that doesn’t fully recognize him despite his wealth and success and compels him to favor one son over another as well as being able to strike a vocal tone to remind the family housekeeper that she’s at the bottom of his little hierarchy.

Not only was it a treat to watch Olivia Howard’s performance as Taylor, but, for my money, it was the strongest performance I’ve seen from an actor this season.  She is so, so natural and believable and she adds tiny little details to her acting that give it that extra dash of pepper such as when she actually clicks her heels when she discovers an unusual breed of fly.  Her work is truly multilayered with the way she engages with the other characters.  She loves Kent.  Spars with Flip.  Argues and debates with Kimber about racial equality.  Tries to connect with Cheryl because she views the two of them as being on the same social level and tries to make Joseph into the father she never had.  Howard truly knows the ebbs and flows of Taylor’s arc and never misses a trick with her storytelling.

DJ Tyree is phenomenal as Kent (Spoon).  He is a genuinely good man who has clearly been searching for something for a while and finally seems to have found some peace and happiness with his relationship with Taylor and burgeoning success as a writer.  Tyree’s Kent is the only member of his family that treats the housekeeper, Cheryl, as a person instead of a servant.  He has a good relationship with his brother despite their disparate personalities and his father’s obvious favoring of Flip.  Tyree really shines in his dealings with his father, Joseph, as it’s clear he does love him, but hates the fact that he’s treated like a screw-up due to his choosing a life that made him happy instead of rich and powerful.

I was stunned by Nina Washington’s work as Cheryl.  She’s able to say an awful lot with simple body language and expressions.  It’s clear she’s not happy serving the LeVays as she was used to being treated like a member of the family by them growing up (her mother was the family maid), but does so out of a powerful sense of duty to her ailing mother.  She’s smart.  She’s sassy.  And she gets a shining moment with an emotional breakdown so tense and explosive that you’ll feel like you were punched in the gut with a gauntlet.

Brandon Williams is definitely his father’s son as Flip.  He bleeds the sense of entitlement and arrogance bestowed by his family’s wealth and his own personal success as a plastic surgeon.  Williams’ Flip is also fully aware of his standing in the social caste system as he easily treats Cheryl as merely a servant.  He is a truly selfish man who lives to satisfy his appetites as he has no desire to live a stable, normal married life with Kimber and spends money as fast as he earns it.

Jim Othuse’s set really evokes the wealth of the LeVays with its elegant woodwork, fine furniture, and sense of largesse.  Andrew Morgan’s properties help to add to that sense of money with a well-stocked mini-bar and a large bookcase filled with classics and best-sellers from top to bottom.  John Gibilisco’s sounds add a bit of oomph with ambient noises like the coffee maker brewing up some morning joe and Justin Payne provides some toe tapping music. Quinton Lovelace’s costumes really highlight the socioeconomic differences between the two castes with the name brand and designer clothes of the LeVays/Kimber and the more relaxed clothes of the working-class Cheryl and lower middle class Taylor.

“I just want to be seen!” shouts a character at one point and that sums up my feelings about this show.  It not only wants to be seen, but needs to be seen.  Masterpiece seems too small a word.  This is a truly epic piece of theatre and words cannot describe how badly you will cheat yourself if you don’t take an opportunity to watch it.

Stick Fly runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 5.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $36 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to strong language and mature themes, this show is not suitable for children. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography