By The Way, Meet Vera Stark. The play is at the Signature Theatre located at 480 West 42nd Street. It runs two hours and fifteen minutes with one intermission. The play closes on March 10, 2019.
Lynn Nottage is the playwright. She won two Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Sweat (2017) and Ruined (2009). Lynn was nominated for a Tony Award for Sweat (2017).
Clint Ramos is the scenic designer. He won a Tony Award for Eclipsed (2016).
Manoel Felciano was nominated for a Tony Award for Sweeney Todd (2005).
The place is Hollywood 1933, 1973 and 2003.
Vera Stark (Jessica Frances Dukes) plays a maid, Gloria Mitchell (Jeni Barber) plays a southern bell. They a rehearsing for a role so we think, at least part of it. Gloria is an actress, Vera is her maid. We are in Gloria’s living room. They get through the rehearsal for The Belle of New Orleans.
Vera goes home. Her roommate Lottie (Heather Alicia Simms) was listening to a soap opera on the radio. Vera tells her she wants to be an actress. Lottie tells her she was an actress in New York. But she has been in California for seven years and can’t get a break. Their roommate Anna Mae Simpkins (Cara Patterson) tells them she has a date with the director of the film Gloria is auditioning for. They ask if he knows she is African American. Her reply is I’m, from Rio de Janerio. She borrows Vera’s fur coat.
Vera is waiting outside the studio where Gloria is auditioning for the role. Leroy Barksdale (David Turner) approaches her. He says he works for the director but he really is a musician.
Gloria gets the part and gives a party. She comes every once in a while to have a drink. Vera and Lottie are working there. In walks Leroy. He is the director’s chauffer. Mr. Slasvick David Turner) is the producer of the movie come for a ginger ale. The director Maximillian Von Oster (Manoel Felsiano) comes in the room with Anna on his arm. She has a very strong Spanish accent. Maximillian has some radical ideas about the film which is getting the producer. Max wants African American’s who are not actors to play the roles in the movie. Vera and Lottie act as if they are just common maids.
In the beginning of the second act we see the scene of movie we saw in rehearsal. Gloria, Vera and Lottie are in it. It is 2003 and we are at a lecture “called “rediscovering Vera Stark The Legion of The Belle of New Orleans. Narrated by Herb Forrester (Warren Miller).” Herb is joined by two women on stage Afua Assata Ejobo (Carra Patterson) and Carmen Levy –Green (Heather Alicia Simms). He plays a tape of a talk show from 1973. It is hosted by Brad Donavan (David Turner). His guest is Peter Rhys-Davies (Manoel Feliciana) a stoned rock star. When Vera comes out he asks her questions. Herb stops the tap from time to time and asks the two women questions. As a surprised Gloria comes out.
They try to decided what happened to Vera both women disagree. The lecture breaks up.
We see the final scene of the movie.
This is an interesting, well done play. It’s worth seeing.
Jessica Frances Dukes and Carra Patterson are outstanding.
Clint Ramos set is stunning.
Before you come into the theatre there is information about three African American actresses of the time Nina Mae McKinney, Mildred Washington and Theresa Harris. There is other information about the movie industry during that time and other tidbits.
Review by Rozanna Radakovich.
Photos by Annazor.
To read a candid interview with the cast, scroll down to the left for photos. Click on photos for this and other shows.