Huntington Buzzes for Stick Fly
Lydia Diamond’s exploration of African-American aristocracy
In the slide show above, playwright Lydia Diamond discusses Stick Fly, the Huntington Theatre Company’s latest production.
Lydia Diamond multitasks.
While writing the nonlinear Voyeurs de Venus, the College of Fine Arts assistant professor of playwrighting tried an experiment. “The Voyeurs story was so emotionally grueling,” she says, “that to keep myself grounded, I decided to write a lighter play, a comedy with a fourth wall and traditional plot trajectory.”
She compares the exercise to calculus, but it paid off. Stick Fly and Voyeurs de Venus debuted in Chicago within a week of each other; both were nominated for 2006 Joseph Jefferson Awards. Voyeurs de Venus reigned, but Stick Fly also garnered critical acclaim and appeared in regional productions from Los Angeles to Atlanta. It opened last week at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion, the latest production of the Huntington Theatre Company, in residence at BU.
Stick Fly takes the African-American social aristocracy, represented here by the LeVay family, and places it under anthropological glass. The play unfolds at the family’s vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard, where patriarch and neurosurgeon Joseph LeVay and his Harvard-educated sons, plastic surgeon Flip and novelist Kent, are spending the weekend. Joining them are Flip’s girlfriend, Kimber, a white socialite who teaches inner-city children, and Kent’s fiancée, Taylor, a black entomologist whose insecurities about her lower-class upbringing serve as an emotional catalyst.
“Taylor’s character is loosely based on me,” says Diamond (GRS’09), “but I like to think that I indulge in my neuroses a lot less than she does.”
Like Taylor, Diamond was raised by her mother, a musician and college professor. They moved frequently, living in Amherst, Mass., Sparta, Ill., and Waco, Tex., where Diamond attended high school. “I often felt like an ‘other,’ ” she says. “Our social circle didn’t tend to include many African-Americans. But even though we never had money, I always had access to education.”
Determined to become an actor, Diamond enrolled at Northwestern University in 1987 and discovered playwriting. “I wrote plays so I could play funny, interesting, complicated young black women,” she says. “I was 22 and cocky; I thought I was reinventing something.”
There have always been more male than female playwrights, she continues, and even fewer African-American women playwrights. “Some wonderful black female playwrights — Suzan-Lori Parks, Lynn Nottage, Kia Corthron, Pearl Cleage — are getting a lot of attention,” she says. “But the majority of plays being produced are written by white men.”
Her first play, Solitaire, won Northwestern’s Agnes Nixon Playwriting Award when she was in college; after graduating, she started a Chicago theater company called Another Small Black Theatre Company with Good Things to Say and a Lot of Nerve Productions.
Her 2005 adaptation of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye launched Diamond nationally. By the time Voyeurs de Venus and Stick Fly debuted, critics were comparing her to two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning African-American playwright August Wilson (Hon.’96), who also had deep BU roots.
Diamond dismisses the comparison with a self-conscious shrug. “I don’t know,” she says. “I just love to write plays.”
Stick Fly runs at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston, through Sunday, March 21. Tickets range from $20 to $82.50 and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office, 264 Huntington Ave., or at the BCA box office. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $25 tickets (ID required), and there is a $5 discount for seniors and military personnel. Student rush tickets are available for $15 at the box office two hours before each performance, and members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Members of the BU community are eligible for a special subscription rate. Follow the Huntington Theatre Company on Twitter at @huntington.