Play: By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

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Playwright Lynn Nottage hopes to stir audiences out of complacency by exploring the paradox of Black actors in 1930s Hollywood.

[Black Star Theater]

Through the use of film combined with action on stage, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark examines the legacy of African-Americans in Hollywood.

The play’s structure is unlike any other with its examination of racial stereotypes and use of multimedia, coupled with an intentional difference in style and tone between the two acts. Beginning in 1930s Hollywood, the play tells the story of Vera Stark, a young and determined African-American maid and budding actress working for Gloria Mitchell, a fading white starlet.

Both women land roles in a Southern slave epic, “The Belle of New Orleans” – Gloria as the film’s heroine and Vera in the role of her servant who commits an act of dissent. The second act jumps to the present day as a panel of African-American film theorists discuss Vera Stark’s subsequent career and legacy. While reviewing footage from her candid appearance on a 1970s talk show (performed live onstage), as well as video clips from “The Belle of New Orleans” (prerecorded and projected), the panelists debate: Did Vera sell out or was she making a statement for equality?

In By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, playwright Lynn Nottage hopes to stir audiences out of complacency by exploring the paradox of Black actors in 1930s Hollywood. These actors were desperate to be cast in the movies and be part of the industry; however, when they finally got their big break, most were relegated to roles ranging from caricature to servitude. Though the parts were largely demeaning, they were accepted as it was still a job in the film industry. Until now, the story of these early African-American pioneers in Hollywood and the lasting impact of racial stereotyping in the entertainment industry has remained largely unexplored in mainstream arts and entertainment.

In addition to dealing with a new subject matter, this play is also innovative in its structure. The first act is a traditional comedic narrative, and the second act is a deconstruction of the first. The technical elements of the play are complex, and the story jumps in time and location. The characters in Act Two discuss and analyze talk show and film clips featuring the characters in Act One, but are not privy to the day-to-day lives and personal histories of Vera and her contemporaries that the audience experienced in Act One. Thus, the conclusions they draw may differ from the audience. The work represents a stylistic departure for the playwright, and one of her stated goals is to push beyond her comfort zone by fluidly incorporating film and video elements into her writing for the first time.

With its unique theatricality and narrative structure, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark truly represents an original form of dramatic storytelling. Second Stage Theatre is proud to be working with Lynn Nottage to present the world premiere of what we believe will become an important play in the American theatrical canon.

Play by Lynn Nottage
Director: Jo Bonney
SECOND STAGE THEATRE
305 West 43rd Street
New York, New York 10036
http://www.2st.com/plays/tickets/2000/

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