When my composition professor first told me I would need to pick something to review, other than the Jonas Brothers’ concert–I was heartbroken to say the least. So while looking through my options, I stumbled upon something called Talking Horse Theatre and a little play called By the Way, Meet Vera Stark produced by Adam Brietzke. After reading a quick synopsis. “Young black maid in the fifties struggles through Hollywood to make it big” I decided it was worth a shot, and that I’d probably enjoy it more than an art exhibit. I was half right.
My first impression of the theatre itself was that it felt homey, but not like my home. Most of the guests who had already arrived were clearly regulars and knew each other by name–none of them seemed interested in learning my name, though. I was also the only guest attending the show that hadn’t lived through The Great Depression. Seeing that I, the only person in the room with a student discount, did not fit in, I shuffled past the programs and greeter in the lobby and walked into the theatre. I walked, oddly, right onto the stage and then realized most of the seats were, quite literally, on the stage. I sat front row and had a good enough view that I could see the actresses’ hands shake as they orated their lines. While waiting for the play to start I found myself people-watching and I noticed that the guests were lounging on the props, just making themselves at home. It was a very different atmosphere from the other productions I had been to.
The lights dimmed promptly at 7:30 pm and the play began. Gloria Mitchell, played by Meg Phillips Crespy, and Vera Stark, played by Rochara Knight, took the stage. Meg Phillips Crespy played her ditzy, America’s Sweetheart character in the perfect way to get just enough eyerolls and laughs from the crowd. The execution of the first scene left me optimistic for the rest of the play: all the lines were read fluently, both characters had made me laugh, and the proximity to the stage didn’t seem to be an issue. As more characters were introduced I took a liking to one character in particular, Lottie, played by MiCrystal Day. She executed her one-liners perfectly and had the whole theater laughing with her facial expressions alone. Although there were a few missteps, or stumbled lines throughout the first half of the play, I was still a satisfied customer when intermission rolled around. That would change once the lights dimmed again.
The stage had been split into two scenes: one half was an interview in the ‘70s after Vera had made it big and the other was present day, talking about said interview and what happened to the mysterious Vera Stark. By this point in the play, most of the characters’ confidence with their lines had begun to falter. MiCrystal Day, or Lottie in particular. You could tell that MiCrystal did not have her lines memorized. With me being practically on top of the stage, I could see the pages of lines she had taped to one of her props and her delivery began to fail the crowd. The last few scenes in the play were hard to watch, by this point the old man next to me was asleep and essentially had his head rested on my shoulder–I was right there with him, too.
There was one character, Anna Mae Simpkins played by Ellie Bonilla, was solid throughout the play and kept me remotely interested after intermission. I did not notice a single misstep from her throughout the production. I still found myself antsy in my seat, not to see the end, but for them to be done. This, of course, may have partially been because the snoozing elderly man I had been supporting for about a half an hour by then.
When the lights in the house came on, I was relieved. The rest of the audience seemed to enjoy themselves, but maybe that’s because they came from a different century than me. Had the play ended after the first act, I would without a doubt recommend you spend less than $20 for a good time, but it didn’t. I see where the director (Blake Willoughby) was trying to go with the production, and maybe with another week of rehearsals he would have gotten his production there, but the end result made for a long Friday night.