Regional Reviews: St. Louis
But in those cartoon classics, the mothers are quickly, even brutally, gotten rid of (or, in most Disney classics, just unaccountably absent). In fact, it became such a common thing in Disney cartoons (to dispatch with the matriarchy) that the studio was forced to come up with an apologia of sorts in 2011's dismal box office failure Mars Needs Moms.
Anyway, how else could the childlike heroes and heroines of those children's films have had youthful adventures of their own? If your mom's always pulling you away from the skunks and circuses of life, you're just going to end up with a lot of student loan debt, and hardly a single good story to tell about it in the bargain.
In Stick Fly, there are likewise no matriarchs in sight and, perhaps inevitably, an ample supply of skunks and circuses on the COCA stage, under the truthful and relentless direction of Chanel Bragg. The adventures are of the romantic type, and the disappointments are often (but not exclusively) related to modern, Black family life. We don't exactly find out why all the moms are absent until roughly two hours inand it's painful. But, for me, it started out as one of those nights that I would have rather just stayed at home, and hidden under a blanket, and taken aspirin. Then, by the middle of this show, I was totally engrossed by a beautifully done slice-of-life comedy.
There's no curtain, but the furniture (the setting is a plush Martha's Vineyard retreat) is unveiled at the top by actress Bobbi Johnson, playing Cheryl, the college-bound daughter of the LeVay family housekeeper, buzzing around like a busy bee. Soon, Kent, one of scions of the LeVay family, enters with his fiancée Taylor: Ricardy Fabre and Amber Reauchean Williams each have seemingly endless reserves of truthful, fiery drama and comedy to unleash throughout the evening. Kent is the frequent victim of snubs from all sides in the eternal quest for male dominance. Spending her time much more wisely, Ms. Williams' Taylor weaves a dizzyingly complex tapestry of thoughts and emotions which become a fulcrum for at least the first two-thirds of this powerhouse of a play. After that ingenious center-stage performance, she retreats a bit, and Ms. Johnson (as Cheryl) steps in to drive us to the finish line with both fresh anguish and hilarity.
The whole story seems to turn on a family of outsiders and their outsider girlfriends, nearly every one of whom gets a heart-felt testimony about being ... an outsider (and of course you could say the same about a lot of modern dramas). That is, except for DeShawn Harold Mitchell, who plays Flip, the other LeVay brother: he's handsome and sly and intelligent and successful. And so I was quite pleased when he finally gets punched in the face, near the end. He's absolutely charming, and Mr. Mitchell shows great finesse at revealing the glorious psychology of a highly marriageable young man. But everyone else here is such an awkward mess that Flip seems to develop an acute case of what's called "PFS" ("punchable face syndrome"). And at least he throws all the others into sharp relief.
Ron Himes, one of the deans of St. Louis theater, is a great anchor to the play as the elder LeVay. And Blair Lewin keeps things elegant and cerebral as Flip's intended, Kimber. There are splendid comic structures throughout, including two or three great moments of unexpected farce. Not all "A-list" Black families have this much baggage to wheel around, which is why their names only appear in the news when they're born or when they die. But if you watch the migratory habits of their mothers, you'll almost certainly know when something big is about to go down.
Stick Fly runs through March 6, 2022, at the Catherine B. Berges theatre at the Center of Contemporary Arts, 501 S. Trinity Ave., University City MO. Reservations, masks, and proof of vaccination (for COVID-19) are required. For tickets and information, please visit www.repstl.org.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association