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By The Way, Meet Vera Stark Synopsis

Act I opens with Gloria, a film star known as America’s Little Sweetie Pie”, desperately trying to prepare for a screen test. The film is a Southern epic in the works called, “The Belle of New Orleans”, and Gloria is determined to land the title role. Vera, her real-life maid, learns that there’s also a part that would be perfect for her own aspirations. Getting the self-absorbed Gloria to put in a good word is part of her dilemma. Vera spills the beans about the film to one of her roommates, Lottie, who used to be in the old Broadway revues. We immediately see she has interest in a script that has a part that she could potentially play, even if it is the role of a slave. We are also introduced to the other roommate Anna Mae, a light-skinned black actress who pretends to be Brazilian to try to catch a break.

Gloria throws a dinner party. The attendees include Vera, of course, but also Lottie, as some additional hired help, the big time studio producer Fredrick Slasvick, director Maximillian Von Oster, with Anne Mae, still pretending to be from South America as his date, and Leroy Barksdale, a jazz musician with a little thing for Vera. The director explains that he wants realism in his film, and as he describes the tragic negro plight he envisions, Vera and Lottie’s shoulders become slumped, their speech pattern shifts, and they carry out an impromptu audition right there in Gloria’s living room. There is some tension between the director and producer who have a different vision for the film. Act I ends with us wondering if the film will happen and if Vera will get the break she’s dreamed about since she was a little girl.

Act Two takes place decades later, as critics debate the work and legacy of Vera Stark. The second act takes a more serious look at stereotypes in popular culture beginning with a showing of the last few minutes of the realized film, “The Belle of New Orleans”, complete with appearances by Gloria, Vera, Lottie and Anne Mae. The film clip from the movie is part of a 2003 panel discussion on Vera Stark and her disappearance from the scene and African-American film history. This panel discussion also looks at a segment from a popular talk show from the 70’s in which Vera and Gloria are guests in 1973. The panel consists of an intellectual film geek, a lesbian slam poet, and a college professor. Although we met Vera Stark in Act I, the question becomes what happened to her in Act II.

 

 

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