It’s the evening and the sound of music fills my ears as I enter a dimly lit theatre. The scene is set on a 1930’s parlor and a portrait of a woman stares back at me. The intimate setting of the Helen Theatre at Playhouse Square is cozy and inviting.
The show I am about to see is By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, a production put on by the Cleveland State University Theatre Department.
But just who is Vera Stark?
Well…that’s exactly what this show is about.
Transported back to the early days of cinema, where many make the move to Hollywood, dreaming of leaving their ordinary lives for the glamor of the screen. However, not many of those dreams are fulfilled- especially considering the racial inequities of the time.
Vera Stark (Cassandra Miller-Meyers) is one of those many young hopefuls who works as an assistant for an actress named Gloria (Kat O’Donnell). Immersing herself as much as possible into the Hollywood scene, Stark reads Gloria’s scripts and helps her to practice her lines.
After accompanying Gloria to one of her screen tests, Stark works a dinner party meant to impress Von Oster (Aidan Callahan) and Slasvick (Nick Hassan), two big wigs in the film industry. Stark and her two friends Lottie (Trinity Thomas) and Anna Mae (Zoe Frager), also working the event, compete with Gloria for the attention of these two important people.
Both Stark and Gloria end up in the film studio’s next picture, “The Belle of New Orleans.” However, while Gloria ends up as the film’s main character, Stark is stuck playing the part of her maid.
A very enjoyable and creative aspect of this production was its collaboration with the School of Film and Media Arts. We were able to watch a clip of the film, as it was made by the actors in this production specifically for the show.
The Belle of New Orleans seems to stand the test of time, traveling throughout the decades. Returning from intermission, we are shown glimpses into two other points in history: one a tv interview from 1972 and the other a panel of speakers analyzing the interview in 2003. There the panelists discuss what really happened to Vera Stark and the much debated ending of The Belle of New Orleans.
The set was on a turntable, and its neutral design allowed for easy scene changes to reflect the different points in this show’s timeline.
All of the students in this production had a strong performance. Some even played different characters in the first and second acts, and often switched between various dialects as well.