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Capsule Stage Review: April 10, 2014

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark The award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is as gifted at humor as she is at drama, delivering a sophisticated comedic tour de force that makes fun of Hollywood's stereotypes of blacks. The lead characters — it's Hollywood in 1933 — are Gloria Mitchell and her black maid, Vera Stark. Mitchell is America's film sweetheart, Caucasian, blond, a bit hysterical and an airhead, played by Elizabeth Marshall Black as all froth, insecurity and manic energy. Mitchell also reappears as one of the interviewees in a 1973 television show. Vera Stark, portrayed by Michelle Elaine, is a fount of levelheaded wisdom, beautiful and ambitious. Stark anchors the play, helped by her two roommates, Lottie (Tisha Dorn) and Anna Mae (Kimberly Hicks), also aspiring black actresses. Vera is also on the 1973 interview show, seasoned after bad marriages — her film portrayal of a maid brought her early fame, never sustained. We move ahead another 40 years, to 2003, as Vera's career is discussed by a black professor (Tisha Dorn, again), and a black lesbian activist (Kimberly Hicks, again), in hilarious sendups of intellectuals gone awry. L.D. Green plays an African American would-be composer and chauffeur, and is a play unto himself, all movement, detailed and nuanced gestures, a kinetic bundle of energy, illuminated by a keen intelligence. Kevin Daugherty is excellent as a film producer in 1933, and also in 1973 as the television host. Roy Hamlin plays a film director in 1933, and in 1973 portrays an aging hippie, and is delightful. The direction is by Ensemble Theatre's artistic director, Eileen J. Morris, and it is deft and lighthearted, finding depth where it blossoms but recognizing the brilliance of subtle satire and also the elements of broad comedy. A must-see, for all audiences. Through April 13. 3535 Main, 713-520-0055. — JJT

Time Stands Still Playwright Donald Margulies was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Dinner with Friends. His latest offering, Time Stands Still, which opened in Manhattan in 2010, received highly favorable reviews and a Tony nomination as Best Play. Fortyish photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Sara Gaston) is recuperating at home in a loft in Brooklyn, with a lacerated face and a badly wounded leg, after six weeks in the hospital. She had been wounded in a war zone, the same one from which her lover of eight years, James Dodd (Seán Patrick Judge), a journalist, had fled after suffering a nervous breakdown. They are visited by a friend, Richard Ehrlich (Jack Young), who brings along his new amour, Mandy Bloom (Lisa Villegas), an attractive girl half his age. The acting of all is exemplary. Gaston finds the spunk, determination, courage and wit of Goodwin, and creates a memorable portrait. Villegas brings the desired looks, energy and naiveté to Bloom, and lets you see her self-confidence even in conversations well over her head. Young succeeds in persuading us that an editor, used to making wise decisions, will determine that his life course is best served by sharing it with a young girl. And Judge shows us his caring concern for Goodwin, though handicapped by a script that has him whine about her success. The work is well-directed by Steve Garfinkel, who kept the pace alive and the scene changes brisk. A midlife crisis emerges, affecting Goodwin and Dodd — only moderately involving, as what we have is a middle-aged couple reasonably comfortable with each other. Margulies wraps things up in the final scene, so we know what life will be like for these four characters. Through April 19. Main Street Theater — Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd., 713-524-6706. — JJT

 
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