You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

breaking news

New I-85 bridge on schedule, could cost up to $16.6M

In a way, ‘Vera Stark’ is no laughing matter

A fluffy screwball comedy passing as a deeper social commentary, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” opens in 1933 Hollywood, where an aspiring black actress yearns for a career playing more than just the racial stereotypes depicted in movies of the era. That Vera is currently working as a put-upon maid to a ditzy fading starlet — and gets her big break with a “Mammy” role in a popular Civil War epic — gives the play certain satirical possibilities (think “The Colored Museum”) that it largely squanders.

As mindless farces go, it’s innocuous enough. But you might expect better than that coming from Lynn Nottage, whose previous credits include her Pulitzer Prize-winning “Ruined” (a gut-wrenching drama about battle-scarred brothel workers in the war-torn Congo) and “Intimate Apparel” (her poignant character study about a black seamstress in 1900s New York, which was exquisitely rendered in a 2006 Alliance Theatre production).

The Alliance’s “Meet Vera Stark,” directed by Leah C. Gardiner, is eventually too silly and shallow to serve its own higher purpose. Rather than pitching everything for laughs, parts of the show deserve to be played straight, but too few of them are. Although Nottage talks a good game about “capturing the truth” and “taking bold new steps,” her own characters rarely feel more authentic or dimensional than the objectionable caricatures they’re up against.

The play’s first act is all about the making of “The Belle of New Orleans” and how Vera (Toni Trucks) manages to ingratiate herself to the powers that be — including buffoonish directors and studio executives, if not exactly her scatterbrained employer, Gloria Mitchell (a delightful Courtney Patterson), a movie star once billed as “America’s Little Sweetie Pie” who’s testing for the leading role of a dying Southern virgin and “octoroon.”

Gardiner and projection designer Adam Larsen periodically incorporate clips from the film, which we’re meant to believe comes to be considered some classic “work of art.” It bears an obvious resemblance to “Gone With the Wind,” even though its histrionic style and tone probably owe as much to that famous Carol Burnett skit that spoofed it.

Any hope that Nottage will take the plot in a more serious direction quickly dissolves after intermission. The equally frivolous second act alternately takes place during a 1973 TV talk show (reintroducing us to Vera as a kind of brassy Vegas has-been) and at a 2003 film-festival retrospective (as a pompous movie geek, a prim cultural anthropologist and a radical lesbian slam poet debate her career and its presumed significance). Instead of giving the play any greater satirical edge, Nottage settles for aiming at easy targets as opposed to drawing profound observations.

Each member of the supporting cast revels in his or her mostly flamboyant dual roles: Andrew Benator, Genesis Oliver, Tiffany Rachelle Stewart, Daniel Triandiflou and an especially resourceful Nikiya Mathis. And Gardiner’s production is quite lavishly designed, as well (sets by John Coyne, costumes by Esosa).

The story could have made a relevant drama, but a little of its forced comedy goes a long way. Don’t let the lofty discussions about the “politics of race” and the “grotesque misrepresentation of history” fool you. If it’s true that “history is but a question being constantly rephrased,” as one character notes, “Meet Vera Stark” essentially poses it as a mere punch line.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Living

Your comprehensive guide to Georgia's state parks
Your comprehensive guide to Georgia's state parks

There’s never a wrong time of year to visit one of Georgia's nearly 50 state parks, each of which has its own unique character.  Whether you'd like to hike, fish, appreciate towering waterfalls or explore caves, you'll be able to do it at Georgia state parks far and wide. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources manages the parks and...
Disney offers sneak peek ahead of ‘Pandora – The World of Avatar’ park opening
Disney offers sneak peek ahead of ‘Pandora – The World of Avatar’ park opening

Disney was preparing to release information on the number of jobs that will be created and the impact on the economy its newest attraction, Pandora – The World of Avatar – will have on Central Florida when it opens on May 27. The attraction will feature a bioluminescent rainforest, dining, shopping and two new rides – Avatar Flight...
Atlanta Track Club announces scholarship competition for 2017 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia Peachtree Junior
Atlanta Track Club announces scholarship competition for 2017 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia Peachtree Junior

Atlanta Track Club recently announced its scholarship competition for the 2017 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia Peachtree Junior. Three group scholarships will be awarded on behalf of Atlanta Track Club’s Kilometer Kids youth running program. Additionally, the Club will make donations to school and nonprofit organizations that bring large groups...
5 places to catch the blues in Atlanta
5 places to catch the blues in Atlanta

Atlanta is a big enough town that finding a list of a dozen bars offering life-sized jenga and another dozen where bocce ball is close to club sport is easy to do. Yet, if you wanted to make a list of bars to listen to the blues —slim pickings. That may have something to do with the shifting generational music tastes not just here, but everywhere...
Indy’s back on the big screen: Release date announced for latest ‘Indiana Jones’ film
Indy’s back on the big screen: Release date announced for latest ‘Indiana Jones’ film

Indiana Jones will be back looking for historical treasure, and fans know when the fifth installment of the franchise will hit movie theaters. >> Read more trending news Disney announced that Harrison Ford will reprise his role in the new movie on July 10, 2020, pushed back a year from its original premiere date of July 19, 2019, Variety reported...
More Stories