Lydia R. Diamond’s “Stick Fly” took a classic family drama, mixed it up with issues of class and privilege, and set it in a surprising location: a well-to-do black family’s Martha’s Vineyard vacation home.
“When I first saw ‘Stick Fly’ as a Boston University undergraduate, I was so excited to see a family that looked like me onstage,” says Ciera-Sadé Wade, who is directing a production for the Madison Park Development Corp. at Hibernian Hall through Oct. 27.
“At the same time,” she says, “the challenge for the cast is finding the complexity and humanity in these people, and making them relatable.”
“Stick Fly” focuses on the LeVay family, who are having a reunion over a weekend at their home on the Vineyard. The family patriarch, Joe, has gathered his two grown sons, Flip and Spoon, along with their girlfriends, but his wife hasn’t shown up, and neither has the family housekeeper, whose 18-year-old daughter, Cheryl, is stepping in to take care of this high-maintenance group. To keep things sizzling, we learn that Spoon’s fiancee, Taylor, had a brief fling with his brother before meeting Spoon, and that Kimber, plastic surgeon Flip’s girlfriend, is “melanin-challenged,” also known as white.
Casual assumptions and time-honored truths get a thorough workout in a play that also demands a clipped pace, even as the actors move from the living room to the kitchen to the porch with a drink, a plate, or a bowl with dessert.
“There are a lot of props,” says Wade with a laugh. “A production like this doesn’t have the luxury of a long rehearsal time, and I’m so grateful for a cast of actors who jumped in without any hesitation.”
Wade also jumped into the production when another director dropped out, and although she has been a performer in Boston for the past several years, “Stick Fly” marks her directorial debut.
“I am excited to have this opportunity, but this is a play I know well,” she says. “Lydia Diamond was my playwriting professor at BU, and I had the opportunity to talk to her during this rehearsal process, too.”
Wade says she drew on her training as an actress and a dramaturg to help her actors find their way into the characters. She says that even though the story focuses on a particular family, the themes are universal.
“It’s really about people trying to live up to expectations, and not always being honest about who they are,” she says. “Plus, it’s about family secrets, and every family has those.
“What I love about this play is that by watching and listening to these characters, we learn something about ourselves. That’s what great theater does.”
A dynamic duo
At first glance, comedian Judy Gold and drag queen chanteuse Varla Jean Merman don’t seem to have much in common.
“Well,” says the statuesque Gold, “we are the same size.”
“And we both wear size 13 shoes,” says Jeffery Roberson, a.k.a Varla Jean Merman. “But we never share.”
Gold is known for her fearless ability to take on any topic, while Roberson’s Merman boasts an operatic voice and a twisted sense of humor. The two join forces Saturday for a pair of performances of “The Judy & Varla Show” at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts ($65-$125; www.huntingtontheatre.org).
Both stand-up comedy and drag shows demand a point of view, says Gold.
“It’s one person onstage entertaining and responding to an audience,” she says. “We’re kind of doing our old gays and old Jews act, since we’ve both survived in the business, and neither one of us is bagging groceries — yet.”
Roberson says the two met in Provincetown in 1998 when he got into costume and makeup backstage while Gold performed her stand-up routine. Now, two decades later, Gold has two Emmy Awards (for writing and producing), hosts the popular podcast “Kill Me Now,” and has a long list of TV credits, while Roberson has appeared in several films, performed with the Gold Dust Orphans, and has a track record of nearly two dozen scripted shows, including the holiday show “Scrooge and Rouge.”
“We both have the same angst and desire to work, and now we’re facing the same issues,” says Gold. “We worked hard honing our craft and now we’re at the top of our game. But social media has created a new way to judge artists. Bookers decide their lineup based on the number of followers you have. It’s like a cult. And when I was growing up that was a bad thing.”
Despite the numbers game, both Roberson and Gold boast their own solid fan bases.
“I love the fact that people who know me may not know Varla Jean and vice versa,” says Gold.
Although their topics of interest often diverge, Roberson says they will perform together, then each do a little of their own acts, and then come together again at the end.
“We open the show with a duet on the clarinet,” says Roberson. “Judy has two, so she’s lending me one. I haven’t played clarinet since I was in the school marching band, but she’s good at it. Honestly, she’s an astonishing musician. She could have been a concert pianist.”
“My parents would have loved for me to be Victor Borge [the late comedian and classical pianist],” Gold says with a laugh. “And hey, comedy is all about timing. But the chance to do a few duets with Varla Jean was irresistible.”
“We’ll probably do ‘Wherever You Go’ from ‘Gypsy,’ ” says Roberson. “We come up with an idea and then rehearse over the phone.”
“The Judy & Varla Show” is just a one-night opportunity, but both performers are having so much fun with it that they will think about where to take it next.
“Really, it’s two great acts for the price of one,” laughs Gold.
Presented by Madison Park Development Corp., at Hibernian Hall, Roxbury, through Oct. 27. Tickets $15-$30, 617-541-3900, www.madison-park.orgTerry Byrne can be reached at [email protected].