Realism and Non-Realism in “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” by Nottage

«Meet Vera Stark» is a play taking the reader on a journey to Hollywood of the 1930s. Although critics praised the play for its bubbling humor, it did raise an array of social issues in 1930s America. Vera Stark is a maid to Gloria Mitchell, an actress, whose fame is fading to obscurity. Vera has high dreams of becoming an actress herself and wishes to get a part in the film ‘Bell of New Orleans.’ However, being an actor for an African-American was not easy then. Lynn Nottage gives the reader a genuine insight into the lives of African-American actors of those days. Although Hollywood was full of maids, nannies, and cooks of African descent there were very few truly remarkable African-American actors. Due to racism, they were given rather menial roles playing servants, and their characters were never revealed. Nottage shows in her play how hard it was back in those days to make a name in Hollywood if you are not of Caucasian descent. It is true because some movie producers of those times were so reluctant to hire African-Americans for the parts that they used white actors playing African-Americans, as in Uncle’s Tom Cabin or other movies and it seemed utterly ludicrous.

Through all the facade of humor and witty dialogues, an observant reader will see the portrayal of pressing social issues of those days. Nottage accomplishes this task through seemingly humorous dialogues which in reality ascertain strong messages and immerse the reader in mid-20th century Hollywood.

The play opens with a dialogue between Gloria Mitchell and Vera Stark. The reader learns that Vera is more than a maid to Gloria and helps her read for the role. Despite their amicable relations, the environment of a servant-master is never lost and as Vera reasons with Gloria and begs her to get her an audition, we may see that Gloria is not taking her seriously. Vera is a character that symbolizes every African-American in Hollywood in those days.

The dialogue between Vera and Leroy Barksdale, a jazz musician reveals the characters and illustrates the attitude to life. Vera asks Leroy “How come in Los Angeles, nobody actually does what they do? And everybody’s always on their way to something else «Something grander» (27). The question that Vera raises is addressed to all the budding musicians and aspiring actresses of those days. She is saying that that people are turning their lives into a farce. When Leroy asks what Vera does, she replies with pride in her voice that she is an actress (Nottage 27). Her reply adds more to the farce, and Leroy jokingly notes that Vera is playing the part of Gloria Mitchell’s maid. This dialogue perfectly illustrates that Vera is in protest with her present life. She feels she has an unexploited potential of an actress although the biggest role she can hope to get is an extra flashing for a split of a second on-screen.

In the first act, Nottage uses more non-realism to reveal her characters and masks social problems with humor. The second act transitions the audience into the 1970s where we learn that Vera did become an actress. She was a trail-blazer who paved her way into Hollywood and became more than just a maid. The second act takes a different angle and immerses the reader deeper into the cultural stereotypes of those days. If the first act focuses more on humor, the second one reveals realism and shows life as it is. Vera is shown as a woman suffering from alcoholism and dependent on medications prescribed to her. The powerful line at the end of the play is “stay awake and together we’ll face a new day” (62). The line sends a powerful message: only by staying awake may we protest against injustice and inequality.

Works Cited

Nottage, Lynn. By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, New York, New York: Dramatist’s Play Service, 2013. Print.

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