Emma Harr and Hillary Lewis act out in the upcoming play “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.” The performance will be held in the Tatum Theatre located inside the Theatre and Dance Building starting this Saturday at 7 p.m. -Susan Broadbridge
The University of Southern Mississippi Department of Theatre opens its spring 2015 season with Lynn Nottage’s “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.”
The first act tells the story of Vera Stark, played by second-year MFA student Hillary Lewis. Vera is a struggling actress living in 1930s Hollywood, trying to land her breakout role while working for America’s sweetie pie Gloria Mitchell, played by third-year MFA student Emma Harr.
The second act is set in 2003, when analysts and experts in their fields examine the last interview Vera did in 1973 before she disappeared from the public image. After 40 years, Vera has become a big star, but it seems the spotlight is not as sweet as Vera thought it would be.
“I fell in love with this script when I read it,” Lewis said. “It is based on the stories of real actresses during this time, some who didn’t even get credited for their work. This story is very dear to my heart.”
While Vera goes on to star in hundreds of pictures after her breakout role, the play shows how she is always remembered for her first and always living in Gloria’s shadow.
“The second act shows the journey Vera has taken over the years and the struggle she has been through. Even in 1973 after she’s been in so many movies and marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King, she just wants to not be in Gloria’s shadow,” said Michelle Taylor, a third-year MFA student and director of “Vera Stark.”
The message of racial disadvantage is clear.
Vera’s roommate Lottie, played by first-year MFA student Jasmine Neal, played classic roles on Broadway such as Shakespeare’s Juliet, yet in Hollywood she is in the same situation as Vera.
Also during this time, no one looks at African-American actors unless they are playing some sort of slave, a testament that hit home whenever a director Gloria is trying to impress does not even look at Vera or Lottie until they play in the southern stereotypes, even though they have been serving him all night.
“It’s good to know the history of where we come from, but we have to see that things are still more than race,” Neal said.
“It’s also about identity,” Harr said. “Gloria is supposed to have this sweetie pie persona to get a role but you see how different she is at home, which is also different from how she is with Vera. In the last interview you see her want to take the mask off she’s worn for so long, but she can’t because there is nothing underneath.”
The show opens at 7 p.m., Feb. 21 in Tatum Theatre located inside the Theatre and Dance Building. It runs again Feb. 26-28. There are matinee shows at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22 and March 1.