By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The play eventually settles onto Seth, Becca and their adopted child in a denouement that goes on for days. With magical snowfalls outside and inside the windows, we’re to infer that this is a mystical work about family and ennui, you know, like in James Joyce’s “The Dead.”
Believe that connection if you want. I didn’t.
The reading of Lynn Nottage’s By the Way, Meet Vera Stark (co-commissioned by South Coast Repertory and Baltimore’s Center Stage) toyed with the sumptuous paradox of black actors in 1933 Hollywooddesperate to be cast in the movies, even as maids and slaves. They know better, but a job’s a job, and there’s a depression out there. The drama hones in on a Gone With the Wind–like epic called The Belle of New Orleans, and the decision by African-Amerian Vera Stark to commit an act of dissent — revolution, even — through the subtext of her performance as maid to a white woman. Act 2 flings us into two different discussions in two later eras — a TV talk show and an academic panel — dissecting the significance of Stark’s life and performance. One looks forward to a future version by Nottage, when the deadly analysis of By the Way is converted into a viable dramatic form; then, this play could soar.
Sharr White’s Sunlight, presented in a beautifully acted workshop directed by David Emmes, plucks the issue of political torture from the op-ed section of any daily newspaper and filters it through the saga of an embattled, liberal college president (Robert Foxworth) who has engaged in unseemly behavior , trashing the office of the law-school dean (Robert Curtis Brown) — who’s also his son-in-law — because the dean espouses a legal philosophy condoning water-boarding and applying electrical charges to the genitals of terrorist suspects. The play tracks the countdown to the president’s inevitable dismissal by the board of regents, and the ushering in of a new conservative era in the college and, by implication, the country.
It’s hard to believe that the entire law school would support this dean, as it happens in the play, but that’s an easily reparable nuance. I also couldn’t buy Sunlight’s implicit outrage that we’re entering a new, barbaric age, when we’re actually continuing a legacy of torture we started with manifest destiny, before exporting it to the Philippines and then Latin America and points beyond.
The larger paradox of such literal plays is that — bereft of allegory and the more poetic qualities of a fable, by the time they reach the stage, they’re already yesterday’s news.
White is, nonetheless, a very gifted writer, as the standing ovation for Sunlight signified. His gifts will become more evident when he envisions this play in terms larger than the daily headlines.
THE INJURED PARTY | By RICHARD GREENBERG | SOUTH COAST REPERTORY, 655 Towne Center Dr., Costa Mesa | Through May 11 | (714) 708-5555