‘By the Way,’ fix the first act of ‘Vera Stark’

Kami Rushell Smith, left, shines as the title character in "Meet Vera Stark." Kelby T. Akin, center, plays Brad Donovan and Gregory Balla, right, delivers the show’s funniest performance. (PHOTO CREDIT: Mark S. Howard)
Kami Rushell Smith, left, shines as the title character in “Meet Vera Stark.” Kelby T. Akin, center, plays Brad Donovan and Gregory Balla, right, delivers the show’s funniest performance.
(PHOTO CREDIT: Mark S. Howard)

It wouldn’t take much editing to turn “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” into a smart comedy that examines racial stereotypes in Hollywood circa 1933. Get rid of the tedious first act, lose the intermittently plodding dialogue, the bad, formulaic sketch comedy feel of the story’s setup and let the action begin.

Act Two of the Lyric Stage Company’s current production of “Vera Stark” is definitely worth seeing. A multitude of great comic moments, poignant scenes, a delightfully cheesy talk show and a riotous catfight make great theater.

Unfortunately, getting there is a lot like going to a concert with a bad opening act. You just sit there waiting for the fun to begin.

Playwright Lynn Nottage’s premise is great: A maid who tends to every whim of a pampered Hollywood actress while trying to make her own way into the film business. But its execution falls flat despite the best efforts of director Summer L. Williams and an impressive ensemble.

Kami Rushell Smith shines as the faded, booze-fueled actress Vera Stark, desperately trying to prove herself 30 years later. Her portrayal of the young maid 30 years earlier, however, feels cartoonish and one-dimensional as a direct result of the script’s shortcomings.

Evelyn Howe brings much-needed comic relief as Brazilian-impersonating Anna Mae Simpkins. Terrell Donnell Sledge’s Leroy Barksdale is the only character with any substance in Act One. Both fare equally well in Act Two as academics studying Vera Stark.

Hannah Husband’s portrayal of “America’s little sweetie-pie” Gloria Mitchell falters until she’s a surprise guest on “The Brad Donovan Show,” where Gregory Balla delivers the show’s funniest performance as rocker Peter Rhys-Davies.

‘By the Way, Meet Vera Stark’
Through April 27
Lyric Stage
140 Clarendon St., Boston
$25 – $58, 617-585-5678
www.lyricstage.com


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