BWW Review: BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK Opens at the Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark opened on Saturday night June 7 at the Unicorn Theatre in Kansas City, Mo. The play written by Lynn Nottage takes place in 1930's Hollywood, where Vera Stark is a black housekeeper for a Hollywood starlet. Directed by Missy Koonce, Vera Stark lands a part in a movie starring her white boss Gloria Mitchell. What happens in the next two acts are the hilarious relationships of Stark, Mitchell, and the other characters in the cast over a 75-year journey.
The play opens with Stark in Mitchell's home where her boss is rehearsing for an audition for a movie. The over exaggeration of gestures, facial expressions, and dialogue set the stage for the comedy that is about to unfold. The integration of film that looks 40 years old and progressively ageing photos add to the already entertaining script and cast.
Dianne Yvette stars as Vera Stark, whose quick thinking gets her an impromptu audition for the same movie as her boss. Yvette is marvelous using superb facial expressions and body language to build her character throughout the play. The audience roars as she slumps and crosses the stage, reacting to the dialogue of the director of the movie. The second act brings her to the stage 40 years older than the first act. Her subtle humor and sarcasm brings roars of laughter from the audience.
Katie Karel stars as America's Sweetie Pie Gloria Mitchell, the neurotic starlet who drinks too much and is constantly on edge about the movie. Karel is excellent as she over-reacts to almost everyone and everything that happens on stage. Her last appearance at the Unicorn was in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. She has appeared in Hairspray with The New Theatre, Flat Stanley at the Starlight, Rocky Horror Picture Show with Egads! Theatre Company and Into the Woods with the Kansas City Repertory Theatre among others.
While waiting for her boss to finish her audition, Vera Stark tries her hand at a scene. Unknown to her Leroy Barksdale stands watching her performance from the shadows. Tosin Morohunfola magnificently plays Barksdale, the Man Friday for the director of the movie. In Act II, he portrays the host of a talk show discussing Vera Stark, drawing large laughs from the audience.
Playing duo roles is Donette Coleman as Lottie McBride in Act I and Carmen Levy-Green in the second act. Coleman gives a wonderful performance as the friend of Stark in Act I who is also trying to break into the movie business and as a guest of the talk show in Act II. She recently appeared in New York City in The Negro Whisperer and at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre in For Colored Girls. . .
Making her debut at the Unicorn Emily Shackelford takes on the duo role of Anna Mae Simpkins in Act I and Afua Assata Ejobo in Act II. Her portrayal of Simpkins is splendid, as she tries to hide her black heritage by convincing the director she is from Rio de Janeiro and in act two as the guest on the talk show. She has appeared at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre, The Coterie, and the American Heartland Theatre. She appeared in the Off Broadway production of Lucky Duck with The Coterie at the New Victory Theatre in New York.
Marc Liby gives a fine performance as Mr. Slavick the head of the movie studio and as Brad Donovan a late-night talk show host in Act II. Justin Speer makes his debut at the Unicorn with a grand performance in the duo role of Maximillian Von Oster the director of the movie in Act I and as Peter Rhys-Davies a rock star in Act II.
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark continues at the Unicorn Theatre through June 29. Purchase tickets at 816-531-7529 ext. 10, in person at the box or at the Unicorn Theatre website.