May 25, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

‘By The Way, Meet Vera Stark’ On Stage At The Geffen Playhouse:

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage has written a fascinating play about Vera Stark, a mostly unknown, legendary African American actress who defied the color barrier during Jim Crow America and went on to become a famous Hollywood actress in the 1930s. “By The Way, Meet Vera Stark,” which takes us through the life and times of Stark, premiered at the Second Stage Theatre in New York and makes its West Coast debut at the Geffen Playhouse.

The more solid, breezy Act I opens with Amanda Detmer’s delightfully flamboyant Gloria Mitchell, who had been dubbed “America’s Little Sweetie Pie,” rehearsing for an audition for the lead role in the “The Belle of New Orleans,” a new movie to be directed by the fiery director Maximillion Von Oster, appropriately played by Mather Zickel, who also plays Peter Rhys-Davies, a guest on Brad Donovan’s talk show in Act II.

Running lines with the aging, gin-guzzling diva is Gloria’s far-from-humble maid, confidant, and aspiring actress, Vera Stark, played to sheer perfection by an amazing Sanaa Lathan. Vera spots the part of a slave and sets out to get cast in that role. Later, at a party hosted by Gloria, Von Oster quite passionately locks horns with the studio head, Frederick Slasvick, appropriately played by Spencer Garrett, over a differing opinion on the story line. Garrett does a good job as both the studio head and talk show host Donovan in the problematic Act II. In a very funny scene, Von Oster is explaining how he wants the “Negroes” in his film to be authentic, with true-life tragic experiences. Vera hilariously assumes the beaten down, bent-over posture and tone of a person from a tormented background and tells a fictitious sad story about her childhood that ultimately results in her landing the role.

Helping out at the party is Lottie, one of Vera’s roommates, hysterically played by Kimberly Hebert Gregory, whose crack comic timing got laughs with her sometimes deadpan, biting delivery. The third aspiring actress/roommate, excellently played by Merle Dandridge, shows up at the party with Von Oster disguised as a Brazilian actress willing to bed down with anyone in a position to launch her career. The relationships between the three women crackle with the delight borne out of living together in somewhat cramped quarters and having the same career goals.

Act II opens with promise as the final scene from “The Belle of New Orleans” is actually screened with Gloria in the lead role of the dying woman. Vera is her devoted slave/maid along with the other slaves played by Vera’s roommates. The film ends with Vera saying to her dying owner “Stay awake and together we’ll face a new day.” Prophetic? Perhaps.

From that most inventive opening, the play moves to a scene from Donovan’s talk show with an aged, alcoholic, drug-dependent Vera slurring her words and exhibiting the ravages of her addictions. Downstage is a live discussion on Vera’s legacy by panelists Carmen Levy-Green (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and a stereotypical militant, Afua Assata Ejobo, played with just the right amount of predictable stridency by Dandridge. However, it’s here that the play begins to fall apart and becomes a forum for political expression. It went on way too long and diminishes the brilliance of Act I.

“By The Way, Meet Vera Stark,” is well directed by Jo Bonney who helped guide and shape the excellent performances given by this sterling cast which also includes Kevin T. Carroll who plays Vera’s love interest, Leroy Barksdale the chauffeur who actually helps her get the audition that ultimately launches her acting career.

Technically, this production is a visual delight starting with Set Designer Neil Patel’s kitschy living room furnished with the requisite white divan and bar area, contrasted with Vera’s small apartment. Projection Designer Shawn Sagady fills the upstage wall with fabulous stills depicting the time line of Vera’s journey using the static vertical lines familiar on old films signifying the opening or ending of a movie. Jeff Croiter’s Light Design, John Gromada’s Sound Design, and ESosa’s Costume Design all work together to create a visually authentic look.

For all intents and purposes Vera Stark vanished around 1973 and despite all kinds of speculations, no one seems to know what actually happened to her. So, a special thanks must go to Lynn Nottage for introducing us to this unsung hero in her fascinating, although somewhat flawed play.

The Geffen Playhouse

10886 Le Conte Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90024

Run: Tuesday – Sunday Through Oct. 28, 2012

Tickets: 310.208.5454

www.geffenplayhouse.com

in News
Related Posts

John Adams Middle School Student Selected to Perform at Carnegie Hall

May 24, 2022

May 24, 2022

JAMS Student Grayson Fitzgerald named junior finalist for the 2022 middle school honors performance series at Carnegie Hall By Staff...

SMC Student Film “The War Within” Accepted into 2022 American Pavilion at Cannes

May 24, 2022

May 24, 2022

Three Santa Monica College Films Will Screen at In-Person Festival, including 2021 Best Student Film Winner “Broken Layers” and 2020’s...

Santa Monica City Council Looks to Shorten Meetings

May 24, 2022

May 24, 2022

Council to consider changes at Tuesday meeting By Dolores Quintana Santa Monica lawmakers are considering taking steps to shorten City...

Landmark Theater Official Closes on Pico

May 24, 2022

May 24, 2022

Pico Boulevard location closes Sunday By Sam Catanzaro The Landmark Theater on Pico Boulevard in Westwood has officially closed.  The...

Road Closures Expected During Demolition Of Parking Structure Three: Santa Monica Beat – May 23rd, 2022

May 23, 2022

May 23, 2022

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes.* Free Donuts At Randy’s Donuts For National Doughnut Day* Road Closures Expected...

Los Angeles Metro Sees 15.9 Percent Increase in Median Rent

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

Median rent of $2,258, according to recent report By Dolores Quintana The ongoing pandemic has exacerbated the issues of housing...

New Renderings for Frank Gehry Hotel Development in Santa Monica

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

Project would include hotel, apartments, retail and a museum By Dolores Quintana Slowly but surely, plans for a  Frank Gehry-designed...

Shared Mobility Plummets in Santa Monica

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

Recent report also shows that nearly half of riders make over $100,000 By Sam Catanzaro Shared mobility use in Santa...

Christopher Dishlip Selected as Santa Monica’s New Assistant Director of Public Works

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

Public Works Director Rick Valte announced the selection of Christopher Dishlip as Santa Monica’s new Assistant Director of Public Works....

Letter to Editor: Response to Himmelrich’s “We Walk the Talk” Column

May 20, 2022

May 20, 2022

By Beau Marks As a Santa Monica resident, I am dismayed by Sue Himmelrich’s response (“We Walk the Talk,” Santa...

Motional And UberEats Launch Autonomous Deliveries In Santa Monica

May 18, 2022

May 18, 2022

There Are Plans For Expansion Into The Rest Of Los Angeles Motional, a global driverless technology leader, and Uber Technologies...

Winston Pies Opening Third Location In Santa Monica

May 18, 2022

May 18, 2022

The restaurant used to be known as ButterCrust Pies Winston Pies is staying in Santa Monica when opening their third...

Only 10 Vaquita Porpoises Survive, But The Species May Not Be Doomed

May 17, 2022

May 17, 2022

Hope remains for the porpoise species not only survive but thrive with human help. By Stuart Wolpert The vaquita porpoise,...

The American Cinematheque Brings “Bleak Week” To Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre And The Los Feliz Three Theatre

May 17, 2022

May 17, 2022

33 Films From 18 Countries In One Week. By Dolores Quintana Sometimes when things are tough and you’re feeling down,...

Man Who Murdered His Family Members Pleads Guilty To Five Other Killings

May 16, 2022

May 16, 2022

Escobar injured an additional seven other people as well.  By Dolores Quintana A man, Ramon Escobar, has pleaded guilty to...