Review Roundup: BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK

Lynn Nottage's world premiere comedy, BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK, already extended one week through May 29 at Second Stage Theatre, opens tonight, May 9. Directed by Jo Bonney, BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK is Ms. Nottage's first play to be produced in New York since she won the Pulitzer Prize for Ruined in 2009. For ticket information, please call the Second Stage Box Office at 212-246-4422 or visit the company's website, www.2ST.com.

BY THE WAY, MEET VERA STARK features Stephanie J. Block, Tony Award-nominee Daniel Breaker, Tony Award-nominee David Garrison, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Kevin Isola, Tony Award nominee Sanaa Lathan, and Tony Award-winner Karen Olivo. Let's see what the critics had to say!

Ben Brantley, New York Times: There are moments throughout "Vera Stark," directed by Jo Bonney, that provoke hearty laughter and troubling thoughts at the same time. But none of them come close to matching the fully inhabited, spiky ambivalence of Ms. Lathan as she appears in the second half. As written and acted, the older Vera is so fully and intriguingly drawn that you can't help thinking what a play this might have been if everything else were on the same level.

Charles McNulty, LA Times: Life and art freely imitate each other in Nottage's comedy, and the production, expertly directed by Jo Bonney with a crackling, versatile cast...enjoys blurring the boundaries between film and reality. But what's most impressive about "Vera Stark" is the way it incorporates bits and pieces from the cinematic past to make its points. We don't just go to the movies to escape but to discover the possibilities of our identity.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: The opening scene of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" begins with such overripe acting and stilted dialogue that you might be tempted to bolt for an exit. Don't...Nottage does not seem to come down on one side or the other about Vera, but clearly is fond of her. What the playwright wants to do, instead, is honor actress such as Theresa Harris and Butterfly McQueen, who are, in equal parts, embarrassing and heroic, by giving them context.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Nottage maintains a broad, at times cartoony, tone, even in the semiserious second half. But her play has fangs. It gnaws at racial typecasting and at smarty-pants who build myths and think they understand all there is to know about someone by reviewing films...Lathan gives a gorgeous star turn. Vera Stark is one of the juiciest roles to come along all season. As the spirited young Vera and the cynical (and probably drunk) old one, Lathan squeezes her for every last delectable drop.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg: Sanaa Lathan, an actress who exudes quiet sensuality, shows Vera morphing from flavor-of-the-moment star to a kind of Eartha Kitt-enish chanteuse. Director Jo Bonney stages the second-act back-and-forth transitions with appealing fluidity, but that doesn't make them work. The promise of Act I, especially in Vera's crackling scenes with a cocksure chauffeur played by the gifted Daniel Breaker, goes largely unfulfilled.

Linda Winer, Newsday: In tone, of course, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark," her screwball comedy about a black actress in Hollywood, is worlds away from the horrors of "Ruined." And yet, Nottage has hardly taken a lazy vacation from revelations about reality. Bottom Line: Remarkable slice of cultural history, cut with humor.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Period lampoonery can run out of steam, but Nottage and Bonney display a sharp grasp of screwball comedy, peppering the scenes with just enough anachronistic attitude to give them a subversive twist....Nottage hasn't entirely worked out where she wants to go with the play. That said, this entertaining production explores a fascinating and unconventional subject for stage treatment. And Lathan, absent from New York theater since 2004's "A Raisin in the Sun," is dazzling.

 

 

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