The Rep, Point Park University’s professional theater company, is ending its 2013-2014 season with the comedic production “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” which follows the seven-decade journey of an African-American maid and aspiring actress in the 1930s and her complicated relationship with her boss, a White Hollywood star who is desperate to hold on to her fledgling career. When the two women are cast in the same Southern epic film, sparks fly.
The production, which runs from March 21 through April 6 at the Studio Theatre, is being directed by Tome Cousin, a Point Park University alumnus who brought the play to the college’s attention.
“I brought the play to Point Park because I thought it would be a good vehicle for African-American actresses; because there are not that many meaty roles for African-American actresses—or actors for that matter—and I wanted to bring that to Pittsburgh,” said Cousin who graduated from Point Park in the 1980s and saw “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” in New York, where he once resided, and again in Chicago. “There are not that many theater companies that are ready to put in the work for a production like this.”
In preparation for directing “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” Cousin said he had to do a lot of research, which included watching films of the time period.
“There is a whole gambit of films in the 1930s that had Blacks in them that had walk-on parts; we were wondering who they were and where else did they work,” said Cousin, who has previously directed shows with Point Park’s student company. This is his first foray directing the REP.
“There’s a whole world of African-American cinema that people can discover.”
Many of the stars in the production were hand-picked by Cousin.
“I couldn’t do this without Maria Bey-Coates (who plays Vera Stark). She won the Pittsburgh performer of the year award and she’s a high caliber actress. And this play gives her and the other actresses and actors the opportunity to get out of the stereotypical roles and it’s a good way for the audience to see the underbelly of Hollywood,” Cousin said. “The audience will get to see that all actresses and actors of all colors are stereotyped in one form or another.”
In addition to Bey-Coates, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” stars Kelly Trumbull as Gloria Mitchell, Bria Walker as Lottie/Carmen, Corinne Scott as Anna Mae/Afua Assata Ejobo, Tru Verret-Fleming as Leroy Barksdale/Herb Forrester, Jeff Howell as Frank Slasvick/Brad Donovan and Andy Kirtland as Maxmillian Von Oster/Peter Ryse-Davies.
Scenic design is done by Britton Mauk, lighting is done by Andrew David Ostrowski, sound design is done by Steve Shapiro, costumes by Don DiFonso and Caitlin Roper is the stage manager.
“I hand-picked most of the actors and actresses. I was looking for someone who could see the range of yesterday and today. I like the mix of the ages of the actors in the show because it not only stretches the actor but it stretches the production as well,” Cousin said. “The cast is dramatic and there is a mix of seasoned and student actors.”
Inspired by the life and career of pioneering Black film actress Theresa Harris, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” was written by Pulitzer Prize winning writer Lynn Nottage. It has been produced off-Broadway by various theaters including the Second Stage Theatre and the Goodman Theatre.
Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Ruined” received a Louise Latrel Award, Drama Desk Award and an Obie Award among others. It premiered in London in April of 2010 and toured several U.S. regional theaters during the 2010-2011 season.
Once he is finished directing the Point Park production of the play, Cousin will return to teaching at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama. The internationally recognized director, choreographer, educator, creator of musical theater and author has appeared on Broadway in “Contact,” “A Free Man of Color” and “Dreamgirls.” He has been commissioned by the estate of famed Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee to create and direct an original new opera based on the photographer’s life and work.
(“By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” will be playing at the Pittsburgh Playhouse’s Studio Theatre in Oakland. Tickets can be purchased by calling 412-392-8000 or visiting www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.)
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