Theater Review: "By The Way, Meet Vera Stark" At The Geffen Playhouse
The first act concerns a 1930s movie star, Gloria Mitchell (Amanda Detmer) who is gunning for the lead in the forthcoming Southern epic film "The Belle of New Orleans." Her maid, Vera Stark (Sanaa Latham) has her eye set on a role in the film as well, one of a slave who is more than the standard trope that was so played out in Hollywood at the time. The first act continues to introduce the people involved in making the movie come to life in a Noel Coward-esque way.
The second act, however, jumps around between the present day and the day in 1973 on which the last known appearance of the eventual star Vera Stark took place. In the present day, an anonymous academic group is hosting a panel on Vera Stark's career, while the panelists (and audience) watch clips from Vera's life.
If this sounds more than a little disjointed, it's because it is. Playwright Lynn Nottage crafted a very well-made, if traditional first act, and then contrasted it with an ambitious second act. Unfortunately, the second act proves the play's undoing, with few moments that really land and justify the act's existence, or any of the situations therein. While Nottage provides the audience with some important commentary on the role of black actors in Hollywood (and the roles they were offered), it falls short in its delivery.
The perplexing contrast between the two acts makes the show an odd experience. Though the cast, led admirably by Lathan as the titular character, tries valiantly to make the whole show coalesce, it just doesn't quite work.
What does work, however, are the technical aspects of the show, all of which are wonderful. Jeff Croiter's lighting design pairs well with Neil Patel's set design, and ESosa's costumes are quite detailed, much like John Gromada's sound design.
It's a shame the second act of "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark" is less than stellar. The play, which continues through October 28 at the Geffen Playhouse, has a promising first act, but it ultimately devolves into a series of caricatures with little sense of humanity to them.