As the insect enthusiast, Celeste M. Cooper (Taylor) explains that flies are glued to sticks so scientists can closely observe their winged struggles to get free. Well in this show, the audience is the scientists. The cast is the flies. Director Chuck Smith provides the stick. And Playwright Lydia R. Diamond gives them a whole lot of gunk to get stuck in.
Diamond explores issues of race, gender, and classism along with sibling rivalry, father abandonment, and open relationships. Her well-developed characters are each a composite of these external and internal forces. And they are bogged down in layers of their past and present. Under Smith’s skillful direction, layers are peeled back. Raw emotions are exposed. The talented ensemble come together as a genuine family in love and hate… sometimes simultaneously.
Tyrone Phillips (Kent) has brought Cooper to his family’s summer house to meet his parents. In Scenic Designer Jacqueline Penrod’s beautiful beach house, Cooper announces that she was going to marry Phillips for love but now she might marry him for his money. And there is the set up. Phillips grew up with two parents and wealth. Cooper was abandoned by her famous father and raised by her hardworking mother. The role of Taylor has plenty to say about inequality in race and class. And an outstanding Cooper makes sure Taylor’s voice is heard. The fierce Cooper gives an emotional performance. Her broad range goes from insurrectionist to damaged goods with equal intensity. At one point, she is vehemently ripping on Kristen Magee (Kimber) and later she crumbles with the heart-wrenching innocence of a lost child.
Diamond wrote strong female characters struggling with daddy issues and identity. Although Phillips, Michael Pogue and Phillip Edward Van Lear grapple with their own problems, the ladies‘ stories take center stage. As the housekeeper’s daughter, Paige Collins (Cheryl) has grown up with this family. Since her mom is sick, Collins is forced to step into the position of housekeeper. Although she dutifully serves Dr. Levay and his sons, the animated Collins struggles with the new girlfriends. Cooper is too helpful. And Magee is too white. When Collins has to confront a family mess, she goes from obliging servitude to heated liberty during a marveling implosion. With Cooper and Collins‘ tumultuous deliveries, Magee keeps her cool. Magee plays it perfectly understated adding to her ability for a lasting zinger. To put Cooper in her place, she tells an unforgettable story about a Prada dressing room. Later, when Collins is lamenting, Magee hilariously reminds her she has no reason to be jealous.
Diamond condenses a lot of stories into this beach weekend. Although there are comedic moments, this is much more a serious family introspection. Watching these flies try to get unstuck is captivating. The family dysfunction is real. And just like in life, resolution to issues doesn’t happen neatly as anticipated. It happens subtly, uneventfully and sometimes not at all. I really enjoyed STICKFLY for its commitment to the truth, both the profound and the unpleasant variety. It keeps it real. My favorite moment is an exasperated Phillips promising not to leave Cooper. The interaction is genuine. Life isn’t harps playing during exclamations of ‘I love you.‘ It’s people putting up with your sh#t. Cooper poses a question at the very end of the show which is the perfect ending. And my response to her is YES!
VENUE SIDENOTE: This is Windy City Playhouse’s second production. The inaugural production debuted the swanky new venue with flourish. My second experience was a little less glamorous. The comfortable swivel chairs are still separated by a mini table serving as a nice drink perch. The original featured bar cart service wasn’t available at our Wednesday performance. It was up to us to get food and drinks at the lobby bar and schlepp them back to our seats. For intermission, we followed the table instructions and texted in our drink order and a nibble. The theory was it would be ready at the side bar. It never arrived there. We eventually got in the long bar line and reordered. And it’s not like that was a horrible experience, it just wasn’t as classy as my first time at Windy City.
I love the concept of Windy City Playhouse being a one stop destination for the evening. I’d like to go from work to theatre and get a drink and nibbles as my preshow meal. At the inaugural, we ordered and food arrived to our seats. This time, it was cash and carry from the lobby bar. Although the bruschetta, salad bites and hummus are tasty, they are hard to eat without utensils. The presentation of each cascading out of glasses is classy. The reality is without a spoon, delicious hummus and bruschetta fixins go uneaten at the bottom of the glass. At the bar, I asked for plates. They indicated the concept was ‘finger foods.‘ I get that but then I need more than a cocktail napkin for these delicate and robust edibles. I soiled about a half-dozen cocktail napkins and still made a mess on the carpet and my pants.
Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes includes an intermission
At Windy City Playhouse, 3014 W. Irving Park
Written by Lydia R. Diamond
Directed by Chuck Smith
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 6pm
Thru July 5th
Buy Tickets at http://windycityplayhouse.com/
For more reviews and information on Chicago theatre, visit Theatre in Chicago.