BWW Reviews: BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK Reveals A Stark Reality

August 25
6:05 AM 2014
BWW Reviews: BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK Reveals A Stark Reality

In By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, acclaimed dramatist Lynn Nottage (winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Ruined), has illuminated the irony and hurtful absurdity of the Black struggle in Depression-era Hollywood to break the chains of racial stereotyping and to land good roles with good lines. iTheatre Collaborative, a gem of a company in the heart of Phoenix boldly stages this play under the direction of Charles St. Clair and with a cast that artfully commands the stage.

It's a two-act play, essentially a prequel and a sequel to the legend of Vera Stark, whose meteoric but brief rise to fame is clouded by the mystery of her fade from the limelight.

In the first act, set in 1932, aspirations blossom into opportunity when Gloria Mitchell, "America's little sweetheart," has a shot at auditioning for the lead role in The Belle of New Orleans. Vera, the savvy and brassy housemaid to her self-indulgent and anxiety-ridden employer, senses that, if she plays her cards right, she can have her long-awaited breakthrough moment in tinseltown. But, she's not alone. Her roommates, Lottie McBride and Anna Mae Simpkins, aim to get in on the act as well. Everybody wants a role, and when the film's producer and director arrive, a brilliantly crafted comedy unfolds.

Nicole Belit is exquisite, endowing Vera with elegance, grace, and the self-assurance that was required to leap from handmaiden to film star. Hers is a tour de force performance, most notably when she seizes the moment to reveal her acting chops to the film's director, Maximilian Von Oster (Tom Koebel) and producer, Mr. Slasvick (Todd Michael Isaac).

Belit is not alone, though, in offering up some remarkable performances. Tyra Young's more worldly-wise Lottie is delicious and endearing as she shimmies and vocalizes and reenacts Juliet's Act 5 suicide.

Krystal Pope, likewise, is an equally gifted actress with a commanding stage presence, whose portrayal of the ambitious and tenacious Anna Mae is perfectly sculpted. This is one powerhouse actress!

Brenda Jean Foley oozes the narcissism and neuroticism of Gloria Mitchell while also capturing the essence of the self-proclaimed diva.

Mike Traylor. What can one say about this brilliant actor whose presence in this play adds a dynamic and essential element to Vera's story! As Leroy, the fast-talking smooth talking chauffeur, he has an eye for Vera matched by a sensibility about Vera's humanity.

The cast, save for Belit and Foley, does double-duty in the second act, a film symposium some eighty years later. In this present day retrospective of Vera Stark's career, Traylor returns to the stage as Herb, a wide-eyed nutty-type professor with a manic determination to unravel the mysteries of Vera Stark. He engages two panelists from different sides of the ideological street, dashiki-clad gender studies professor Carmen Levy-Green (Young) and tightly wound performance poet Afua Assata Ejobo (Pope), each of whom imposes their political perspective on Vera's career. They watch film segments from The Belle of New Orleans and old takes from Vera's and Gloria's final appearances on a TV talk show. Vera, as so many celebrities, becomes the fodder for post-mortem speculation.

As the retrospective ends, we are left to wonder where truth lies. What is the Stark reality? What became of Vera and why? Such are the questions with which the audience can wrestle, but what vividly clear is the masquerade that too many souls had to endure to make it on the yellow brick road to Hollywood fame. Here is Nottage's contribution ~ to compel us to consider the sad chapters of our evolution as a society and the costs of racism and stereotyping.

The Southwest regional premiere of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark runs through September 6th at Herberger Theater Center's Kax Stage.

Phoenix THEATER Stories | Shows  Follow BWW Arizona

About the Author

Get Author Alerts
Herbert Paine Herb Paine is President of Paine Consulting Services, now in its twenty-sixth year of operation, specializing in organizational development, strategic planning, turnaround management, mergers, and (read more...)

  • BWW Review: Anne Carrere is Arc De Triumphant in PIAF!
  • BWW Review: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE Trades Up And Pays Off
  • BWW Review: Not All Deals Are What They Seem in THE PRICE
  • BWW Review: Chords of Romance Echo With Vigor And Style In SEDUCTION AND THE HAND OF FATE
  • BWW Review: Young Talents Give LES MISERABLES A+ Treatment
  • BWW Review: I Hear America Singing IN THE HEIGHTS - Phoenix Theatre's Production Is So Dope!


    Babe: An Olympian Musical (New Works Reading) in BroadwayBabe: An Olympian Musical (New Works Reading)
    ASU Lyric Opera Theatre
    (Runs 11/6 - 11/6)
    The Herd in BroadwayThe Herd
    Theatre Artists Studio
    (Runs 11/25 - 12/11)
    Bakersfield Mist in BroadwayBakersfield Mist
    Theatre Artists Studio
    (Runs 1/13 - 1/29)
    Dirty Dancing in BroadwayDirty Dancing
    Orpheum Theatre
    (Runs 2/10 - 2/12)
    Arizona Theatre Company
    (Runs 3/4 - 4/16)


    Backstage with Richard Ridge
    Back to Falsettoland w/ OBC - Passing the Torch
    Backstage Bite
    TV Exclusive: BACKSTAGE BITE with AVENUE Q's Elizabeth Ann Berg
    Turning the Tables
    Randy Rainbow w/ FIDDLER Cast
      Chewing the Scenery with Randy Rainbow
    SPAMILTON Takes Over at Broadway Sessions!