September 26, 2020 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

Edify TV: Trident Center Redevelopment

September 25, 2020

September 25, 2020

The Westside’s Trident Center is getting a major overhaul and new name as part of a flurry of development in...

Miramar Project to go Before City Council Tuesday

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

Councilmember Gleam Davis asks City Attorney whether she should rescue self from vote  By Sam Catanzaro  Santa Monica lawmakers will...

SMa.r.t. Column: Needed, A Heart Transplant

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

We have written about adaptive reuse in previous columns and have postulated that with proper incentives, the existing one, two...

Edify TV: Boulders Blocking Westside Encampment

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

City officials recently removed boulders placed on sidewalks by some Westside residents to prevent the formation of a homeless encampment....

Should Council Member Davis Recuse Herself From Voting? Santa Monica Beat – September, 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * Should Council Member Davis Recuse Herself From Voting? * Increases In...

SMC to Be Online for Winter and Spring 2021

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

College cites lack of available vaccine  By Sam Catanzaro Santa Monica College (SMC) has announced it will be delivering classes...

Edify TV: Al Fresco Program Ending?

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

During a COVID-19 pandemic many restaurants have found aid through the City of Los Angeles’ Al Fresco dining program, but...

Local Breweries Say They Have Been Unfairly Shuttered as County Passes Grant Program

September 24, 2020

September 24, 2020

$10 million grant program approved by Board of Supervisors  By Sam Catanzaro Will a $10 million grant program be enough...

Santa Monica Loses Vegan Restaurant

September 23, 2020

September 23, 2020

Space housing Santa Monica vegan restaurant Viva Vegan up for lease By Sam Catanzaro A vegan restaurant in Santa Monica...

Risks Posed by Wildfire Smoke

September 22, 2020

September 22, 2020

UCLA pulmonologist on how people can tell if the wildfires are making them sick By Toi Creel Even if you...

Will Los Angeles County See Another Spike in COVID-19 Cases?

September 22, 2020

September 22, 2020

County health officials keeping close eye on data this week By Sam Catanzaro Los Angeles County health officials are monitoring...

Edify TV: Santa Monica Fire Department Fighting Blazes Across State

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

The Santa Monica Fire Department has been busy helping combat wildfires burning throughout the state. Learn more in this video...

Lawmakers and Residents Take Steps Towards Police Reform

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

Santa Monica residents will soon have more control of policing after local lawmakers took significant steps to reform the Santa...

2020 Census Due September 30th: Santa Monica Beat – September, 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

Local news and culture in under 5 minutes. * 2020 Census Due September 30th * Bobcat Fire Reaches Historical Size...

UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica Offers Free “Living With Diabetes” Zoom Patient Conference

September 21, 2020

September 21, 2020

By Staff Writer Although the novel coronavirus has dominated the health space this year, other diseases — like diabetes —...