Stick Fly, the newest production at the Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts, mixes the intrigue of a family drama with a discussion about race and class in the U.S. The play focuses on the LeVay family, an affluent Black family that gathers at their vacation home in Martha’s Vineyard. Brothers Kent and Flip have decided to introduce their parents to their respective girlfriends, but the meeting reveals deep family secrets – and their girlfriends don’t get along either.
Alumna Lydia R. Diamond (Speech '92) wrote Stick Fly with the intention of creating a play in the style of Lillian Hellman’s family dramas, from the perspective of a Black family. Communication sophomore Amira Danan appreciated Wirtz’s choice to put on a play by an NU alumna, and she feels that Diamond is an example of the opportunities the future may have for Northwestern students.
“It shows how far you can go after Northwestern and what kind of perspectives can be gained beyond the college experience and translate into playwriting,” Danan said.
Director Ilesa Duncan, a friend of Diamond’s, passed along an encouraging email that Diamond wrote for the cast before the play opened. Duncan, who is also the artistic director of Pegasus Theater Chicago, researched the characters, the setting and the sociopolitical context of the play to prepare to direct it.
“It's wonderful that the university is supporting the work of a prolific alumni and exposing new generations to her work,” Duncan said.
Danan plays Taylor Bradley Scott, Kent’s girlfriend and the daughter of an aloof writer who Joe LeVay, the family patriarch, is a fan of. To portray Taylor, Danan focused on understanding the character’s motivations.
“Really getting to know the character is important. I’ve been thinking about the relationships between each character,” Danan said. “Taylor specifically has a lot of issues with her father. And those sort of stem from issues of class that’s she’s dealt with throughout her life.”
Class, along with race and and parental relationships, is a major theme of the play. Danan, who feels that the experiences of wealthy Black people are often overlooked in art, appreciates how this play presents that often ignored perspective to NU students. Specifically, she cited a scene where Joe LeVay discusses how lucky he is to have married into a wealthy family and the sense of inferiority he feels because he is living in a house that historically belonged to his wife’s family.
“A large portion of our school have grown up in affluent families,” Danan said. “But I think it’s interesting to see an affluent Black family’s perspective. There is a difference between Black success and how it's perceived and the way that white success still somehow trumps it.”
While Stick Fly deals in heavy themes, it also offers moments of levity. Duncan says the humor in the play helps it appeal to audiences who do not want to watch a straight drama.
“There are plays that are a hundred percent drama, and there is nothing wrong with those plays,” Duncan said. “But this play’s moments of levity makes it and the themes it discusses more accessible.”
Humor also plays a role in stabilizing the characters. Danan’s character needs these moments to keep herself steady as she deals with the strong emotions that her first meeting with the LeVay family brings out in her.
“Her emotions are very heightened in most scenes throughout the play,” Danan says. “Those moments of humor are necessary for her to ground herself in something.”
Stick Fly plays at the Josephine Louis Theater on May 18-19 at 7:30 p.m., May 21 at 2 p.m. and May 21 at 7:30 p.m. There will be a post-show discussion for the May 18 show. Tickets are $6 in advance, $10 at the door for Northwestern students.