Black One-Percenters; Creepy ‘50s; Shocking Abuse: Jeremy Gerard

Mekhi Phifer, Rosie Bentonn, Tracie Thoms and Dule Hill in "Stick Fly," by Broadway newcomer Lydia R. Diamond. Photographer: Richard Termine/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

The name Alicia Keys among the lead producers is one tip off that “Stick Fly” will have a few surprises.

So is the art hanging on the walls of a grand Martha’s Vineyard “cottage” that is the setting of Broadway newcomer Lydia R. Diamond’s outlandishly engrossing dramedy.

“Is this a real Romare...” a weekend guest asks.

“Bearden, yes,” answers a young scion of the estate.

“And that’s a real...”

“Uh huh.”

The one-percenters in Diamond’s play are wealthy, Ivy-League educated and black: The LeVays family matriarch descends from the first black landowners on the exclusive island. (Which doesn’t, however, inhibit them from hiring black help.)

First to arrive for a summer weekend are younger son Kent (Dule Hill, from TV’s “Psych”) and his girlfriend Taylor (Tracie Thoms). Then comes older brother Harold (Mekhi Phifer, of “Clockers”), in advance of his white girlfriend Kimber (Rosie Benton).

Then there’s Dad (Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a great actor miscast as the hard-driven papa). Last is Cheryl (Condola Rashad), filling in as housekeeper for her ailing mother and as at home here as you would expect of someone who grew up in this house but not of it.

Family Explosives

The result: thunderous conflicts, jealous rivalries, buried secrets, furtive glances, stolen intimacies and tearful confessions.

Indeed, the melodrama quotient in “Stick Fly” weirdly echoes that of “Other Desert Cities,” which unfolds in warmer climes on the other side of the continent.

These are stories we seldom get to hear. Diamond has a knack for setting up juicy situations without always knowing how to resolve them. Director Kenny Leon ought to have trimmed a half hour from the play and tightened its focus. And I wish the fiery Taylor, an entomologist, didn’t go around capturing exotic bugs and watching them squirm. OK, I get it.

Nevertheless, “Stick Fly” is one of my favorite plays of the year. Keep your eyes on Rashad, radiant in the harrowing “Ruined” and a further revelation here.

At the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; Rating: ** 1/2

‘Maple and Vine’

In Jordan Harrison’s “Maple and Vine,” at Playwrights Horizons, a couple stressed out by e-mail, long hours, indifferent neighbors and a miscarriage enter “Twilight Zone” territory.

They meet Dean and his wife Ellen, who seduce them into joining their cultish gated society, where it’s always 1955, Formica is king and women wear foundation garments.

Things were simpler then, when we liked Ike and never heard of Ikea, not to mention Grey Goose vodka. When homosexuals knew their place and it wasn’t in the bedroom (unless you’re talking about the walk-in closet).

This idea has been done to death, and there isn’t much to recommend “Maple and Vine” over films like “Pleasantville” and “The Truman Show.” Marin Ireland and Peter Kim are the hapless couple who seem way too smart for this flat-footed silliness.

Through Dec. 23 at 416 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; Rating: *

‘James X’

Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson joined forces with the estimable Culture Project to present the remarkable monologue “James X.’

You should see it, but gird yourself.

The autobiographically based play was written and is performed by Gerard Mannix Flynn, a Dublin author, politician and impassioned actor.

Most of the evening’s 80 minutes are given to Flynn’s account of growing up hard and fast as a rowdy, troubled city kid usually on the wrong side of the law.

The spare setting is the anteroom to the Dublin High Court, where he, now 45, is to address a committee investigating sexual and physical abuse by Catholic clergy at church-run institutions.

Flynn has thinning hair, a deeply lined face and dark eyes that sometimes give him the visage of a gargoyle, as if the horrors he experienced as a young and not-so-young boy had been ineradicably stamped on his face. Byrne seems to have directed him not so much to act as to fully inhabit his own skin.

Near the end, James’s therapist encourages him to speak out, telling him, he says, that “I am only as sick as my secrets.” That wise advice and his decision to follow it put an irrefutably human face on an ever-growing tragedy.

Through Dec. 18 at 45 Bleecker St. Information: +1-866-811-4111; Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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