Take a 70-year journey through the life of Vera Stark, a budding African-American actress working as a lady’s maid for a white Hollywood starlet. When they’re both cast in the same Southern epic movie, Vera’s career and controversial legacy are launched.
Each character bears a set of stereotypes that by exaggerating the stereotype without actually going over the top. In this way, the play comically satires the roles that people play. The second act fragments the historical narrative as television programs are intermingled with live-action all the while maintaining the understated over-acting style.
Like much contemporary drama, the play is about identity and in particular that people are prevented by society from exhibiting their essential identities and must portray fictional characters in their lives and not be who they really are. Lynn Nottage’s script goes a step further, suggesting that there is no essential identity to the post-modern person but only mediated memes, snatches of personality constructed in the moment in the ever-changing social environment. In this sense, we are all actors. The only constant is de-personified consciousness. Because of the rapid switching around of identities, the production calls for talented actors who can make the many personality-adjustments, resulting in a production that showcases the excellent and varied talents of the cast.
Kelly Strickland explores a wide range of personas, including a raucous physical rendition of Bessie Smith’s Give me a “Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer” in sharp contrast to her demur and repressed character as a lady’s maid to the wealthy and powerful Gloria Mitchell. Alicia von Kugelgen’s Gloria Mitchell is a narcissistic late-career movie star who tries to get everyone to admire her. Shani Harris-Bagwell is all over the stage, playing multiple characters with multiple ethnic roots, successfully dancing through her social environment while donning the mask the situation requires. Jia Taylor provides a baseline of excellent vocal music coupled to satirical humor. Khary Moye supports all the action by promoting aspirations of Vera Stark. Directed by Dawn Monique Williams.
HISTORY OF THE PLAY
“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” was originally produced by Second Stage Theatre Off Broadway in May 2011, directed by Jo Bonney; it received its West Coast premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in September 2012, also directed by Ms. Bonney. Productions have followed at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre (April/June of 2013), the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta (October/November 2013) and Everyman Theatre in Baltimore (April/May 2014). The Douglas Morrisson Theatre is presenting the play’s Northern California premiere.
ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT
Lynn Nottage is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and a screenwriter. Widely produced in the United States and throughout the world, her plays include the recently opened Sweat at Oregon Shakespeare Festival, By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Drama Desk Nomination), Ruined (Pulitzer Prize, OBIE, Lucille Lortel, New York Drama Critics’ Circle, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award), Intimate Apparel (American Theatre Critics and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Play), “Fabulation, or The Re-Education of Undine” (OBIE Award), “Crumbs from the Table of Joy”, “Las Meninas”, “Mud, River, Stone”, “Por’knockers” and “POOF!” Nottage is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellowship; her numerous other awards and honors include the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, the inaugural Horton Foote Prize, Helen Hayes Award, the National Black Theatre Fest’s August Wilson Playwriting Award, a Guggenheim Grant and PEN/Laura Pels Award.
She is a graduate of Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, where she has been a faculty member since 2001. She is also an Associate Professor in the Theatre Department at Columbia School of the Arts. “Ruined”, for which Ms. Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009, is set in a bar and brothel in the war-ravaged Congo and was inspired by interviews with refugees. The title refers to the woman, many of whom have been ruined by rape and torture when forced into prostitution. “Intimate Apparel” is a moving drama about a seamstress in 1905 New York who fashions lingerie for both Fifth Avenue boudoirs and Tenderloin bordellos. “Fabulation” is a social satire chronicling the life of an ambitious PR business woman who tumbles down the social ladder back to her Brooklyn roots after her husband embezzles all her money.
Playing AUG 27 –SEPT 20, 2015 at the Douglas Morrison Theatre in Hayward CA