Lydia R. Diamond: Complex Thought, Complex Pleasure

"O.K. If history is, arguably, a fabrication . . . at least to the extent that it can only be told through the socio-political-sexual-psychological lens of the person telling it, right, what then is fiction?" — from Lydia R. Diamond's Voyeurs de Venus

Cambridge-based playwright Lydia R. Diamond's plays have been compared to those of August Wilson, Lynn Nottage, Wendy Wasserstein, and even Eugene O'Neill — four skilled and important writers whose style, content, and background actually have very little in common. And yet they are all apt comparisons for a writer who combines intellectual curiosity and artistic range with graceful and pointed humor. In her plays, intelligent, complicated, American characters spar with our history, our future, and our present while managing to speak to a wide variety of audiences. Diamondís plays prove that complex questions make for riveting drama.

After graduating from Northwestern with a degree in theatre and performance studies, Diamond stayed in Chicago and produced her plays and several others under the auspices of a small theatre company she started. Like much of her writing, the name of the company was self-conscious, serious, and rather funny: Another Small Black Theatre Company with Good Things to Say and a Lot of Nerve Productions. The Chicago theatre scene is so supportive of independent artists, that Diamond was able to write, produce, and act in plays both with her own company and others.

In 1998, MPAACT, a black theatre company in Chicago, mounted a production of The Inside — which they described as a "piercing take on race, academia, art, and sexuality."  This was Diamond's first production that wasn't self-produced. Soon after, Chicago's larger theatres began to take notice of the young, dynamic talent. The prestigious Goodman Theatre premiered her play The Gift Horse in 2002. Awards, commissions, and productions followed, notably The Bluest Eye and Voyeurs de Venus with Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

Five years ago, Diamond relocated to Cambridge with her husband and son. She became a Huntington Playwriting Fellow in 2005 and now teaches playwriting at Boston University. This past year she completed a commission from the Huntington, an adaptation of Aristophanes' Lysistrata called Lizzie Stranton, which was read as part of last summer's Breaking Ground Festival.

Stick Fly first premiered in 2006 and, like much of Diamond's work, deals with the lives and concerns of upper class African-Americans — often academics — a subject that now seems prescient in the age of Obama. But, her work can't be reduced to its politics; for the artist as social observer, it is what is most compelling to write about. Diamond speaks of it this way: "I notice that America has a real comfort zone with seeing African-Americans in certain ways . . . that are limiting just because itís a narrow perspective of a very complicated, huge part of America."

Stick Fly takes place at the LeVay family home on Marthaís Vineyard where African-Americans have been living and vacationing since the 1600s. The witty and well-educated characters that populate the play question neither their good fortune nor their racial identities, which is not to say they donít carry the baggage of their family history, much in the tradition of O'Neill's Tyrone family, Wasserstein's sisters Rosensweig, or Wilson's Maxson family of Fences. Diamond's work carries American family drama forward into the 21st century, where our stories are a bit looser, a bit more surprising, and a bit more complicated.

Lisa Timmel

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