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By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre | Theater review

Tamberla Perry mesmerizes as an aspiring actress trying to play to what Hollywood will let her be.

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
1/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
2/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
3/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
4/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
5/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
6/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
7/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
8/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
9/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
10/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
11/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
12/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

 (Photograph: Liz Lauren)
13/13
Photograph: Liz Lauren

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark at Goodman Theatre

Everybody's acting in Lynn Nottage's sly and slippery satire of Hollywood's treatment of African-American actresses. In the first act, set in 1933, Vera Stark (Tamberla Perry) is a young wannabe starlet working as a maid to established screen actor Gloria Mitchell (Kara Zediker) while trying to break into the business herself. The plot plays out like a classic screwball farce that also happens to convey thoughtful commentary about the options available to black actors of the time.

Vera's roommate Lottie, who fondly recalls playing Juliet for an audience of Pullman porters in Chicago, reminds Vera that she pledged never to play maids or mammies. Yet the moment an influential director starts describing the "authentic Negro" he wants for his next picture while Vera and Lottie are working a party at Gloria's house, they both start shucking, jiving and singing the blues. But Gloria's always "on" as well, in an exhausting effort to maintain the "America's Sweetie Pie" image she only drops in front of Vera.

Nottage's second act makes a jarring tonal and temporal shift: The action now shifts back and forth between a 2003 panel discussion of Vera Stark's legacy and a recently unearthed 1973 television appearance—Vera's final interview. Director Chuck Smith handles this potentially unwieldy milieu well, tracing the disparities between what we know about Vera's beginnings and what the modern-day scholars on the panel want to project onto her. Perry is spellbinding as Nottage's star, shuffling identities in two different eras, trying to invent herself any way she can.

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