A New Branch of the United States’ Miscegenated Family Tree: Lynn Nottage’s “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2011-07-13 02:50Z by Steven

A New Branch of the United States’ Miscegenated Family Tree: Lynn Nottage’s “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark”

The Feminist Wire

Soyica Colbert, Assistant Professor of English
Dartmouth College

Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage’s new play By the Way, Meet Vera Stark opened at the Second Stage Theatre on April 6, 2011 to guffaws and robust applause. The play puts a playful twist on what Daphne Brooks calls “America’s miscegenated history” in order to recuperate the story of a forgotten black actress. Fittingly a comedy, Nottage’s play calls to mind the ongoing melodrama that is race relations in the United States. From the saga that Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings has become to the ongoing and offensive questions regarding President Barack Obama’s citizenship, the popular conversation about race seems to leap in the blink of an eye from the postracial world of the twenty-first century as Hortense Spillers describes in her provocative piece “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Too” to the scientific racism of the nineteenth century epitomized in a racist email Tea Party activist Marilyn Davenport sent to her constituency, picturing Obama’s parents as chimpanzees.

Using the temporal confusion race triggers in the twenty-first century to her dramaturgical advantage, Nottage’s play, directed by Jo Bonney, shuttles the viewer seamlessly through different time periods in the twentieth century, from 1933 to 1973 to 2003. The play offers an uproarious insight into the life of Vera Stark (Sanaa Lathan), an African American woman striving to become a Hollywood actress while working as the maid of a famous purportedly white actress Gloria Mitchell (Stephanie J. Block). By the end of a play that focuses on how the choices we make determine who we will become, we learn that Gloria is Vera’s cousin and that Gloria is passing for white. Laugh out loud funny, innovative in its staging and powerful in its organization, Nottage’s new play, playfully reveals the way that U.S. racial mixtries— a term used in Langston Hughes’ Broadway play Mulatto (1935) that communicates mixtures that are mysteries—create lines of contentious affiliation among women…

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