The first act of the play takes place in 1933, where we meet Hollywood starlet Gloria Mitchell and her former Vaudeville partner Vera, who works as her maid while trying to break into pictures (doesn't everyone who lives in Hollywood want to be in pictures?). Gloria is up for a role in The Belle of New Orleans, and Vera is desperate to be cast in it as well. Gloria is too preoccupied with her own life to help her friend, so Vera takes matters into her own hands when the studio head and director come to Gloria's apartment, playing into their stereotypes and getting cast. The second act jumps forward in time 70 years to a seminar about the legacy of Vera Stark in which the panel discusses her life and work while watching clips from the movie (pre-recorded video) and a 1973 talk show appearance (live reenactment) that reunites Gloria and Vera.
|Norah Long as Gloria as Marie and Crystal Fox as Vera|
as Tilly, in the classic "tightening the corset" scene in
The Belle of New Orleans (photo by Allen Weeks)
The production elements on this play are as divine as the cast. Mathew LeFebvre's gorgeous costumes span the range from glamorous '30s Hollywood, to real working women in that era, to the fabulously colorful '70s, and modern day specific types. C. Lance Brockman's versatile set easily transforms from Gloria's luscious apartment to Vera's working class apartment to a studio back lot with just a change of furniture and the flipping of panels in the walls. A really fun feature of this play is that we actually get to see the movie that's talked about so much. A quite lengthy clip of The Belle of New Orleans is played on a big screen in which the four women play roles in this deliciously melodramatic movie.
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is a really fun, entertaining, funny, beautiful to look at play on the surface, but on a deeper level says some important, thought-provoking, and relevant things about black actors in Hollywood, then and now. And it's quite timely, coming a few weeks after the announcement of this year's Oscar nominations, which included not only the snub of the film Selma, but the first all-white group of nominated actors since 1998. Hollywood, and we its audience, still have much to learn from Vera Stark (playing through March 1).
This article also appears on Broadway World Minneapolis.