By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

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By The Way, Meet Vera Stark is a play by Lynn Nottage. The play concerns "Vera Stark", an African-American maid who becomes a star Off-Broadway.

Background[edit]

Nottage received the 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award for this play.[1][2]

Productions[edit]

The play premiered Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre on May 9, 2011 and closed on June 12, 2011. Directed by Jo Bonney, the cast featured Sanaa Lathan as Vera Stark, Stephanie J. Block (Gloria Mitchell), Daniel Breaker (Leroy Barksdale/Herb Forrester), David Garrison (Fredrick Slasvick/Brad Donovan), Kimberly Hebert Gregory (Lottie/Carmen Levy-Green), Kevin Isola (Maximillian Von Oster/Brian Blaze), and Karen Olivo (Anne Mae/Afua Assata Ejob). Sets are by Neil Patel and costumes by ESosa.[3][4][5]

The play ran at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in September 2012, directed by Jo Bonney, starring Sanaa Lathan with Amanda Detmer (Gloria).[6][7][8]

The play was produced at the Goodman Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, from April 27 to June 2, 2013.[9]

Overview[edit]

According to Second Stage, "Lynn Nottage draws upon the screwball films of the 1930s to take a funny and irreverent look at racial stereotypes in Hollywood. 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' is a 70-year journey through the life of Vera Stark..., a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star...desperately grasping to hold on to her career."[10]

The title character of Vera Stark is based in part on black actress Theresa Harris.[11]

Critical response[edit]

Ben Brantley, reviewing the Off-Broadway production for The New York Times, wrote: "There are moments throughout 'Vera Stark,' directed by Jo Bonney, that provoke hearty laughter and troubling thoughts at the same time. But none of them come close to matching the fully inhabited, spiky ambivalence of Ms. Lathan as she appears in the second half.... But much of the comic material here feels stereotyped in itself, bringing to mind lively but formulaic sketch routines from satiric variety shows like “In Living Color.” As directed by Ms. Bonney, the acting swings wildly between proper characterization and caricature.... More enjoyably, the second act includes a clip from the film that Vera finally made (as imagined by Tony Gerber) and the priceless 1973 talk-show sequence, in which Mr. Garrison is perfect as a fatuous Merv Griffin-esque host."[5]

Charles McNulty, in his review of the Off-Broadway production for The Los Angeles Times, wrote: "The subject of racism in the film industry might not seem like an ideal fit for a comedy with a screwball twist, but Nottage is too clever to preach and too much a fan of the cinematic era she’s writing about not to entertain. The giddiness of the romp isn’t easy to sustain, but her sneaky cultural critique is delivered with an ingenious wink.... Nottage is attuned to the specific hardships of African American actors coveting fame throughout history, and her irony detector can’t help beeping as it surveys all the social progress that has been made. But she’s also aware of how anyone in the public eye is forced to sell a part of his or her soul. In this regard, she’s an equal opportunity satirist, sending up the performing seal in all of us."[12]

Bob Verini, in his review for Variety of the Geffen Playhouse production, wrote: "Nottage and Bonney seem to lack much appreciation of, or respect for, the Tinseltown milieu...The second half nevertheless proves richer and more satisfying. For starters three academics, hilariously doubled by Carroll, Gregory and Dandridge, practically come to blows at a modern-day seminar on the meaning of a career that ended in lousy roles, humiliation and eventual disappearance....All the pieces of Nottage’s puzzle never quite click together, and it’s rather ironic for a work whose theme is personal and professional authenticity to keep bringing in so much that’s downright bogus."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2012 Drama Desk Award Nominations [13]
  • Outstanding Play, Lynn Nottage
  • Outstanding Actress in a Play, Sanaa Lathan
  • Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, Stephanie J. Block
  • Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play, Kimberly Hebert Gregory
  • Outstanding Director of a Play, Jo Bonney
  • Outstanding Costume Design, ESosa
2012 Lucille Lortel Awards[14]
  • Outstanding Lead Actress, Sanaa Lathan (winner)
  • Outstanding Costume Design, ESosa (winner)
  • Outstanding Featured Actress, Kimberly Hébert Gregory (nominee)
  • Outstanding Director, Jo Bonney (nominee)
2011 AUDELCO Award Nominations
  • Lighting Design, Jeff Croiter
  • Set Design, Neil Patel
  • Costume Design, ESosa
  • Sound Design, John Gromada
  • Director/Dramatic Production, Jo Bonney
  • Playwright, Lynn Nottage
  • Supporting Actor, Daniel Breaker
  • Supporting Actress, Kimberly Hebert Gregory
  • Dramatic Production of the Year
2011 Audelco Award Winner
  • Lead Actress, Sanaa Lathan

References[edit]

  1. ^ By The Way, Meet Vera Stark tcg.org, accessed January 27, 2016
  2. ^ "New Plays in Production" tcg.org, accessed January 27, 2016
  3. ^ "'By The Way, Meet Vera Stark' Listing" lortel.org, accessed January 27, 2016
  4. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Nottage's 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' Gets Extra Week at Off-Broadway's Second Stage" playbill.com, April 27, 2011
  5. ^ a b Brantley, Ben. "Review. A Black Actress Trying to Rise Above a Maid" New York Times, May 10, 2011
  6. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Vera Stark, Ready for Her L.A. Close-Up, Opens Sept. 26; Sanaa Lathan Stars" playbill.com, September 26, 2012
  7. ^ Vera Stark geffenplayhouse.com, accessed January 27, 2016
  8. ^ a b Virini, Bob. "Review: ‘By the Way, Meet Vera Stark’" Variety, September 27, 2012
  9. ^ "'By The Way, Meet Vera Stark' Listing" goodmantheatre.org, accessed January 27, 2016
  10. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "A Hollywood Story: Lynn Nottage's 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' Begins NYC World Premiere" playbill.com, April 6, 2011
  11. ^ Dargis, Manohla (April 21, 2011). "Just a Maid in Movies, but Not Forgotten". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  12. ^ McNulty, Charles. "Theater review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' at Second Stage Theatre" Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2011
  13. ^ Gans, Andrew. "Drama Desk Nominations Announced; 'Death Takes a Holiday' and 'Follies' Lead the Pack" Archived 2014-08-09 at the Wayback Machine playbill.com, April 27, 2012
  14. ^ "2012 Lortel Awards" lortelaward.com, accessed January 27, 2016