Arts & Culture

Alum’s production tackles historical racism with comedy

‘By the Way, Meet Vera Stark’ addresses racial barriers in Hollywood, pitfalls of fame

Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2016

“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” underscores the importance of preventing ambitions from interfering with personal relationships. Produced by Sock & Buskin and based on Lynn Nottage’s ’86 satirical screenplay, the production will run Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 to 9.

Sock & Buskin’s production “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” will premiere Sept. 29. The play is a satirical comedy written by Lynn Nottage ’86 that focuses on the eponymous Stark — a struggling black actress who reaches fame but with unexpected consequences. Inspired by screwball comedies of the 1930s, the production scrutinizes the unchanging racial barrier in Hollywood.

“Vera Stark is ultimately about human relationships — the choices and (the) shaping of human ambition and fame and fortune,” said Associate Professor of Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Kym Moore, who directed the production.

The play is “perfect for a school like Brown, where people are trying to be number one something at somewhere, and (it shows) the price that you pay for just doing that and not attending to your personal relationships.”

Regarding the play’s exploration of diversity, Moore said that she views “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” as a form of healing. She added that the satirical nature and comedic aspect of the play allow the audience to understand that it’s a human story that transcends “a parody of people’s experience.” She emphasized that the play was a reminder of the follies of images. “To me, the whole piece is a wake-up call to see ourselves as humans rather than caricatures.”

Sienna Vann ’17, lead actress and chair of Sock & Buskin, reiterated the play’s focus on the performance aspect of people’s lives. Using the characters Vera, Gloria, Lottie and Anna Mae, Vann said the production strives to highlight a person’s natural desire to be seen — which has not changed, as embodied by the rise of social media platforms.

Because the story goes through the 1930s, 1970s and the 2000s, the play is especially insightful in its focus on the unchanging lack of diversity in Hollywood. Vann noted that there is a scene in which a panel “looks at the figure of Vera Stark and (talks) about her as a problematic figure, which is really interesting because (though) she expanded black representation in the media, by playing those roles, she also perpetuated stereotypes.” 

The play is more relevant than ever after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences received criticism last year for the lack of non-white nominees in the top four categories.

“If we look today (at) all the black women that have ever been nominated by the Oscars, all the roles have been slaves, mammies and drug addicts” Vann said. 

Assistant Director Ellie Gravitte ’17 also noted the difficulty in treading between the comedic aspect of the play and the somber history behind the story. “There are so many levels of performance in this production,” Gravitte said. She added that it was important to see that the more honest and painful the history was, the more effective the comedy.

“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” will be performed from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and Oct. 6 to 9. Tickets are on sale now.

Correction: A previous version of this article referred to Kym Moore as an assistant professor of theatre arts and performance studies. In fact, she is an associate professor of theatre arts and performance studies. The Herald regrets the error. 

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