Julia @ 'By The Way, Meet Vera Stark' - I could barely breathe at times

What’s it about?

Act I is about Vera Stark’s struggle to make it as an African-American actress in 1930s Hollywood. Act II fast-forwards to the present as Tumblr stock characters analyze footage of a 70-year-old Vera on a ‘70s TV talk show.

My experience.

Lately, a lot of shows I’ve seen haven’t really impressed me that much. I’ve been sitting in those small and uncomfortable chairs counting down the minutes until I can leave.

So when I came in and saw the play was gonna be 2 hours and 25 minutes with an intermission, I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was scared I was gonna fall asleep cause I just am not a night person.

But I didn’t!

Although the topic was serious, there was a good amount of humor that got me through the night. I could barely breathe at times. Sometimes, I would just start giggling five minutes later cause I would still be thinking about the last joke.

Now if you’re wondering if Vera Stark was a real person, she ain’t. The play dealt with racism in Hollywood during the 1930s. Roles for black actors were rare, and if one was created it was most likely a slave character with little to no lines. In this case, some Russian director wanted to showcase the lives of black people during slavery, so there was one slave character who had a large part. The film was called The Belle of New Orleans, and the slave was named Tilly. The black community was tired of the stereotypes, but Vera did not seem to care. I mean, she did, but she was a struggling black actress with bills to pay. Sacrifices were made.

Before I go on, the director’s Russian accent gave me the heebie-jeebies.

Editor’s note (Christine): The director character is actually German, but apparently his accent is a lil’ sus I guess lol.

I honestly do not like the sound of the Russian-American accent in general. Maybe it is because I come from a Russian family and it just always sounds a lil’ weird to me, idk. If you’re curious, it’s exactly like how Trevor Noah sounds in his bit about the Russian language:

Anyways, Vera did get the role of Tilly through… creative (non-sexual) means. But in the second act, when she’s around 70 years old, she was on a talk show and the interviewer would not shut up about her Tilly character. She said playing her was her greatest glory and her greatest shame.

Vera’s life at that point was being viewed by scholars in the present through old video footage. I kid you not, their dialogue was something from Tumblr or Reddit. One woman was analyzing the footage and told the audience, “As a black lesbian,” I don’t remember the rest, but I imagine it’s something I’d read on Tumblr. You know how some people on those sites try to relate everything back to them? Like please, just let other people’s experiences be their own. Vera was annoyed that society hadn’t changed much and continued to see her only as Tilly. She’d played so many other roles, but she was constantly asked about Tilly. Imagine how Jennifer Aniston must feel when she gets bombarded with Rachel questions!

I’ve noticed a common thing with plays, films and TV shows with mainly black casts. Sure, some characters are finally coming in a wider variety — doctors, lawyers and professionals. But the issue of race is almost always mentioned. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to talk about, but think about it: Shows that focus on gay people, I’ve noticed, have started to lessen their focus on their sexual preferences. They are just regular people

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