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By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

From 27 critic and 144 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Funny, Clever, Thought-provoking, Entertaining

About the show

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s fast-paced, sly satire takes you on a seventy-year journey through black actress Vera Stark’s life and the cultural climate that originally shaped her and continues today. More…

It’s the Golden Age of Hollywood, and aspiring starlet Vera Stark works as a maid to Gloria Mitchell, an aging star grasping at her fading career. Worlds collide when Vera lands a trailblazing role in an antebellum epic starring…her boss. While Vera’s portrayal of a slave turns out to be groundbreaking, decades later scholars and film buffs still grapple with the actress’ legacy in Hollywood and the impact that race had on her controversial career.

Stage Left

"The cast is terrific, and director Kamilah Forbes effortlessly shifts the action between disparate tones and styles. While act two does drag, Ms. Nottage writing is incisive and engaging...A smart satire that takes a piercing look at the damage done by early Hollywood representations of people of color, and the legacy that echoes forth today. With a terrific cast and Lynn Nottage’s is incisive and engaging writing, this play is an easy critic’s pick." Full Review


“It was only eight years ago when two-time Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage's terrific show-biz social satire,’ By the Way, Meet Vera Stark’ was first seen Off-Broadway, but director Kamilah Forbes' crackling good new mounting for Signature Theatre makes for a welcome return...The playwright's fictional story takes its inspiration from the groundbreaking work of early black film actors.” Full Review

The New York Times

"Though the director, Kamilah Forbes, doesn’t always nail the fouetté-on-a-dime rhythms and not all of the actors are on the same page it’s still a delight...For a play about a former maid, 'Vera Stark' is not especially orderly. But it is such a good show — so clever, so playful, so keen to shapeshift and timeslip and whiz through half a dozen separate genres...that I spent the next several days trying to figure out why it isn’t an absolutely great one." Full Review

The Wall Street Journal

"A comedy with a sharp satirical kick, but one that is at bottom commandingly serious. It’s also one of the smartest plays, by Ms. Nottage or anyone else, to open in New York in recent years...'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' would profit from a slightly less frenetic production, one that allowed the play’s comic punches to land on their own instead of being telegraphed to the viewer. The cast, however, is splendid." Full Review

Carole Di Tosti

"The beauty of this production is how Nottage chronicles the development of Vera Stark...Act II brings all the tropes together and the liveliness of the conflict between the black male and the two female guests is superbly done...Then Nottage in the last few minutes configures another fabulous revelation that is poignant and beautiful. You will just have to see this wonderful production to appreciate it for yourself." Full Review


“Humorous, thought-provoking...The first act is pure screwball comedy...The second act has a harder edge...Forbes carefully stages it to keep the decades straight...The talented cast does double duty in this production...Nottage gets in the most social criticism, while not letting up on her key premise — the lack of meaningful roles for women of color in Hollywood...Think of it as the kind of theater where no one is safe.” Full Review

Diandra Reviews it All

"Everything about this play, from cast to crew, enraptures you. The question is are you ready and open? For all that you may laugh, comedy is based on tragedy, and, nowadays, the tragedy of racism is still a prickly topic for people." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"The show is sharply satirical and extremely funny; Forbes’ direction emphasizes the satire and the screwball comedy, highlighting the craziness of the situations. Forbes expertly weaves together the tonal and genre shifts embedded in the text, making the transitions seamless...This sort of cultural examination, particularly of female cultural figures, is much more in the mainstream in 2019 than it was in 2011." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“’Not for lovers of more conventional comedies: Its humor may be too barbed, its skepticism too all-embracing. amuses and dismays in equal measure...Forbes, allows the cast to play too broadly in the early scenes...Things improve enormously as the play goes on...with the cast markedly more at home in the second act...’By the Way, Meet Vera Stark’ remains a knockout, an inventive work that sheathes some very provocative ideas in a riotous package.” Full Review


“A fiendishly clever satire...Forbes has done her utmost to help her actors make the most of the play's many hilarious acting opportunities...The stagecraft is excellent...The second act's structural shift is fun...However, the parts focusing on the symposium panel are somewhat awkwardly staged and overly broad...Despite the second act not being a straight A, I was happy to meet this 'Vera Stark' — as I think you too will be.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"Makes a good case for its strengths without managing to minimize its flaws...The first act is so entertaining that the shift of gears after intermission comes as somewhat of a letdown...The actors are all very good, although I did occasionally wish...Forbes had asked them not to play things quite so broadly...While the satirization of Hollywood in the 30’s is hardly subtle, it is both entertaining and enlightening. Despite its second-act problems, the show is well worth seeing.” Full Review


"Even in a year that has garnered multiple Oscar nominations for the films 'Black Panther,' 'Black KKKlansman' and 'If Beale Could Street Talk,' Lynn Nottage's seriocomic 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,' which tells the fictional story of the first African-American woman to receive an Oscar nomination, feels entirely relevant today." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“A visually stunning revival...The fictional melodrama presents a Hollywood version of Southern gentility and nostalgia-infused slavery...As a satirical comedy, there are a lot of laughs, but sometimes at the expense of rich character development...Still, as directed by Forbes, this is a topnotch production...The play does not try to conceal the underlying dark truths, but they are made palatable (and immensely entertaining) as if projected with the gloss and panache of a 1930s film epic.” Full Review

Cultural Weekly

“An amalgam of every black actress who had to mold herself to fit white perceptions of her sexuality, talent, and intelligence. But instead of a heavy-handed treatise of the evils of discrimination...Nottage delivers a screwball farce skewering reductive racial attitudes...Forbes’ staging is much broader than Bonney’s version which works well in the more outrageous sequences...Occasionally Forbes pushes too hard and the proceedings become more like a campy SNL skit." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Directed with zingy energy by Kamilah Forbes, can at times feel like a revue by an aging vaudeville star—a bit broad, a bit padded—but it’s anchored by a crackling central performance by Jessica Frances Dukes. And it’s a compelling reminder of Nottage’s playful inventiveness...Dukes keeps the center of 'Meet Vera Stark' sharp and shining, and of her fellow performers, Simms is there with her, dexterously walking the line between the satirical, the farcical, and the humane." Full Review


“Nottage switches styles from screwball comedy to backstage realism, and director Kamilah Forbes effortlessly keeps in step. The comedy is still plenty tasty, but the style is much more cutting...The second act...retains its jarring shift in style...This switch to satire bears out Nottage’s cutting point...But these one-dimensional parodies are too mean and obvious to offer either intellectual enlightenment or belly laughs." Full Review

Front Row Center

“A well intentioned play that never lands in one spot. We hear about Vera’s struggles in a way that is more a litany than a gut punch...We never get into the heart of this woman. Nottage is taking wide swaths through this territory and covers a lot of ground. But in the end it feels more like a hop-on hop-off bus tour. We see it but we don’t feel it. Everyone is a caricature and the beating hearts that keep them alive never surface.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

“’Vera Stark’ attempts many things at once...In this elegant production, it is ultimately much as it was in its 2011 debut...funny, smart, frequently clever, and ultimately successful in achieving only some of its goals...Vera’s regally self-dramatizing turn as the grand-dame talk-show guest is simply sensational...But the early scenes lag, and the academic spoof in the second act is obvious and unnecessary. And the hinted-at deep secret is left unexplored.” Full Review


“The first act is unadulterated farce that’s handled with confidence and an infectious comedic flair...However, the play’s second act is reminiscent of ‘Sunday in the Park with George’, both in its awkward satire of contemporary arts and academic circles and its jarring, notoriously problematic shift in tone. To compensate...Forbes has chosen to forcefully push some of the play’s satirical elements, at times detracting from the bite of Nottage’s script. " Full Review

Theater Life

"Nottage uses a captivating blend of parody, broad humor, academic wit, social comment and even drama, to create a biting satire...The charming Jessica Frances Dukes makes Vera utterly believable with a strong colorful performance that sustains the character’s lively humanity...Kamilah Forbes’ uneven revival for the Signature is much broader than Jo Bonney’s original staging, and this becomes a problem. Going too broad with this comedy actually-dilutes the humor." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"Director Kamilah Forbes seems strangely ill at ease with the play’s comedy. Scenes that should fly by seem to stumble along; the classic rat-a-tat screwball style is only sometimes present...If the style isn’t quite there, though, the performances help make up the difference...Forbes has a tighter handle on that second act.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

“’Vera Stark’—played by the dynamite Jessica Frances Dukes is one of the juiciest characters Lynn Nottage has ever written...As a play, however, ‘Vera Stark’ is one of Nottage’s least cohesive—enjoyable and zany, but uncharacteristically uneven...In Act 1, we meet aspiring actress Vera...The whole shebang has a screwball-comedy feel...Act 2, however, is like an entirely different play...If only we could fast-forward...and get back to the real drama: Vera.” Full Review

Time Out New York

“Although production often misses its step, it’s a welcome reminder that Nottage has a tricky pinball brain, capable of whanging through the decades and lighting us up with humor and rage...Forbes’s staging slow things down instead...Forbes’s experience is mainly in dramas, and so the tonal balance is wonky here...Forbes elicits exaggerated performances; it often seems like the actors are playing to a nonexistent balcony.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Nottage's intelligence, wit, and craftsmanship are writ large…but its stylistic leaps along the spectrum from farce to realism do little to draw one into its world and lots to keep one at a distance. Nor does…Forbes's attractively mounted but barely nuanced production manage to find a tone that consistently ties its disparate scenes together. With a few exceptions, the approach is forced farce, seeking laughs by egregiously overstated comic acting,…which pulls focus from Nottage's ideas." Full Review

The Wrap

"Forbes’ production manages to exacerbate this over-long show’s weaknesses...What Nottage has written as satire instead comes off as farce, and scenes meant to send up both outdated performance styles and modern-day academics turn them into broad caricatures...’Vera Stark’ has some timely things to say about the challenges facing black artists — but it presents a tonal challenge to even the most talented companies that this production can’t quite meet.” Full Review

Great acting, Enchanting, Resonant, Relevant, Hilarious

See it if You enjoy biting satire. You find reflections about the complexity of race in America compelling. You enjoy watching a clever, crazy scene.

Don't see it if You don't like comedy with a serious edge. Inventive theatrical styles (with time jumping) annoy you.

Also I did not realize how funny this show would be, and while I don't usua... Read more Read less

Clever, Entertaining, Funny, Intelligent, Refreshing

See it if you love Lynn Nottage's work; it's okay with you if a very funny play turns serious

Don't see it if a 2 hour 25 minute non-musical is too long for you; you don't want to see a play involving the struggles of black women in theater

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Great acting

See it if Telling story of Hollywood from an African-American experience.

Don't see it if You think there is no discrimination Hollywood.

Delightful, Funny, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you like plays that look at things from a different perspective and allow you to form your own opinion.

Don't see it if you only want a rose colored world.

Clever, Great acting, Profound

See it if You love old time Hollywood mixed with important messages about race and its evolution in film.

Don't see it if The second act drags a bit-those with a short attention span may become antsy.

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Great writing, Resonant

See it if You want to see a well written, funny play that tackles significant social issues, delivered by a great cast.

Don't see it if You don’t like comedies that make you think.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Great writing, Great staging, Great acting

See it if Very well done, unique and surprising play. Lots to think about. Fantastic acting, I was impressed.

Don't see it if you want something short. You definitely need to stay for both acts and it is fairly long.

Great set, Great acting, Ambitious, Entertaining

See it if You want to see a great production of one of Nottage's earlier works - with great acting and a great set.

Don't see it if You're not willing to pay attention! While the first act seems light and fluffy, the dialogue holds some key facts you can't miss!!!

Also This is a wonderful revival of a fun and thought-provoking show. While... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Great writing, Funny

See it if fun and often moving story of a black woman in 1930s Hollywood as she tries to move up from being a maid to a movie actress

Don't see it if this play is completely about race and gender. broad stereotypes are used throughout.

Thought-provoking, Great staging, Great acting, Funny, Delightful

See it if You enjoy your laughs with a message. Was there for a Talkback afterwards - so great to hear about the process. Kudos to the director!

Don't see it if You are not interested in shows dealing with race and discrimination...

Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Politically relevant

See it if you appreciate the way in which Lynn Nottage beautifully integrates humorous surfaces with political depths. Great tonal shift in Act 2!

Don't see it if you have no interest in thinking about the role of race and racism in American culture, even if it's wrapped in a seemingly comedic package.

Relevant, Masterful, Resonant, Funny, Absorbing

See it if Loved the humor with very serious topics. Great writing. Fun acting. Very meaningful message about equity in entertainment industry.

Don't see it if I can't even say don't say it if you don't like theater with a message because it is entertaining even if you are not thinking.

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if look at racial stereotypes & limited early acting roles of black women thru a satire of 1930s Hollywood; 1st act a screwball comedy*

Don't see it if don't want laughter with a serious subject; don't want a play that covers 70 years or a play that has multiple genres within it*

Also * The screwball comedy scenes (of their actual life) followed in 2nd a... Read more Read less

Profound, Great acting, Entertaining, Clever

See it if You like interesting stories you have perhaps not seen before?

Don't see it if You need lots of action.

Thought-provoking, Eye opening, Funny, Painful, Debunking modern media

See it if You are white and unaware of overt and covert discrimination. You are a person of color, aware of these things or unable to put into words.

Don't see it if You do not like to see our society called out for bigotry and abuse, you do not want to learn to see our movies, etc through new eyes.

Funny, Thought-provoking, Irritating, Epic, Challenging

See it if Biting satire of slippery identities in 1930's black Hollywood. Hilarious, surprising act 1. Brilliant start of act 2. Layers of meaning.

Don't see it if 2 1/2 hours. Angry, rambling & often annoying act 2. Vera's life & work is interpreted through the self-interest of others.

Delightful, Entertaining, Quirky, Funny

See it if you love Lynn Nottage's work and/or to see a different side of her writing

Don't see it if you don't like plays about old Hollywood or confronting its racist/sexist nature

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Resonant, Entertaining

See it if You're interested in seeing a Nottage comedy, a creative exploration of Black female film representation, or clever poking fun at academia

Don't see it if You're "over" second acts that bring you completely out of the world of the first act

Also It's really cool to see that Nottage was doing the kinds of things btw... Read more Read less

Delightful, Entertaining, Quirky

See it if You enjoy quality work. Not a lot of risk; everything felt very safe, but it was enjoyable.

Don't see it if You're looking for a production with teeth. It has all of the elements, an interesting/fun script, solid actors, great facility but no teeth

Clever, Entertaining, Ambitious, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to see a clever play (or two plays) with some great performances and much humor. There is an underlying poignancy to the piece.

Don't see it if you have no interest in the role of the black woman in film.

Also Marvelous production values: vintage movie scenes, talk show setting, ... Read more Read less

Entertaining, Entertaining, clever, well-acted

See it if you want a very interesting play, very well acted about what it is like to be a black actor trying to get work.

Don't see it if you want a very tight production.

Also I loved the first act but I thought the second act dragged a bit, damp... Read more Read less

Whatever happened to hattie mcdaniel and her ilk? thru comedy & satire focusing on career of fictional vera stark, nottage addresses early history of black performers in hollywood

See it if Act 1 hilarious 1933 screwball comedy, drives home pt that Hollywood is land of posers including those passing white; strong cast

Don't see it if Act 2 set in 2003 is a let down: blunt satire of new class of academics bloviating on role of black actors in Hollywood

Also Two aspects of show are noteworthy: (a) Act 1, Scene 1 that is part of... Read more Read less

Clever, Funny, Great staging, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if a dramedy about racism in Old Hollywood interests you. The black characters face prejudice with stalwart determination to succeed

Don't see it if you prefer a linear plot. The first act is comedic while the second discusses race in America more seriously.Also, it tends to drag on.

Important subject, Relevant, Funny, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if you care about the corruptions bred by American race politics in the entertainment industry,

Don't see it if you will be bothered by some gimmicky satire of academia that is unnecessary

Excellent acting, Thought-provoking, Great staging, Clever

See it if You appreciate Lynn Nottage's talent, good writing and clever staging.

Don't see it if You cannot appreciate the impact of race on our society then and now.

Cast & Creatives (15)