Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

Lynn Nottage has penned a unique and clever work now being performed at Second Stage Theatre.   The play takes place in two distinct parts - Act I in 1933 and Act II 1973/2003 involving the same cast - some playing the same characters and others taking on new roles.  The work itself is a film-within-a-play and a TV-show-flashback within-a-lecture within a play.  Yes - all that and I promise you'll never get confused.  It's all done with perfection!

Act I all by itself is simply enchanting.  A small and funny dramady all in itself, it introduces us to the characters, provides background and setting (Hollywood 1933).  It then sets the stage for the future possibilities for the main character, Vera Stark (Sanaa Lathan) as she embarks on her life's journey.

Act II is where the real meat of the intrigue and playwright's message lies.  Act II brings us forward almost 70 years with looks back at what became of Vera and her hallmark film debut, The Belle of New Orleans.

The sets are charming and the costumes period-perfect.  I loved the way they orchestrated the scene changes - making the stage look like a Hollywood sound stage exposing the construct of the sets and leaving all the pieces of the sets exposed to the audience at different times.

Ms. Lathan is pitch perfect in her delivery and timing.  Stephanie J. Block is marvelous as the young Hollywood star, Gloria Mitchell.  It was a pleasure to see the ever-handsome Daniel Breaker perform both of his charmer roles.   Karen Olivo gives a hysterical performance as Anne Mae in Act I and a slightly more serious one as poet, rapper, lesbian, feminist, Afua Assata Ejobo.  Kimberly Herbert Gregory charms us as Lottie in Act I and provides some over the top commentary as the intellectual Carmen Levy-Green in Act II.

No spoilers here, but I'll just say Ms. Nottage's message is brilliant.  If you think about it you'll realize that maybe you shouldn't believe everything some seemingly intelligent and educated people tell you.  Just think about Vera.  You'll understand what I'm saying after you see it.