Douglas Morrisson Theatre opens new season



Ian James Vitaga,

The Douglas Morrisson Theatre kicks off a new season this month with “By The Way Meet Vera Stark,” a satire by award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage that portrays one woman’s hardships with racial profiling in the film industry during the 1930s told as a satire.

“This season is about secrets and other things revealed,” Susan Evans, the theater’s artistic director, said. “Each one of the plays has an element brought to the surface.”

The production fits with the theater’s theme for this season, which is “Revelations.” Love, secrets, mysteries, murders, social criticisms, music, and comedy will be a part of this season.

The play, which opens Aug. 27, is about a fictional African-American film star living through racial stereotyping in Hollywood during the 1930s. Theresa Harris, the inspiration for the main character, was a pioneer for African-American actors and played many roles: maids, Southern belles, blues singers, waitresses, tribal women, prostitutes, and hat check girls.

In this play viewers will see how Vera Stark struggled in the industry. During the 1930s, African-American actors were not offered main roles. Some productions even had black people portrayed by white actors in blackface. This play will show how Vera made her mark in Hollywood through her work ethic even with the stereotypical roles she was given.

Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for her 2009 play “Ruined” and has a decorated career with many other awards. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant Fellowship, Steinberg Mimi Distinguished Playwright Award, the Dramatists Guild Hull-Warriner Award, the inaugural Horton Foote Prize, and many others. Her plays have been produced all over the United States as well as internationally.

On a website that she created for her fictional character, Vera Stark, Nottage brings the actress to life with an autobiography and a short documentary about Stark with interviews by director Peter Bogdanovic, cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh, and film professor Mia Max, with actual footage of the play.

This play was done at the Second Stage Theatre in New York in 2011 and was directed by Jo Bonney. It won the Lily award and received a Drama Desk Nomination in 2011. This is the first time this play will be done in northern California and under a new director.

Dawn Monique Williams, an East Bay native and a Cal State Hayward alumna was asked to direct the play. She was a 2014 Theatre Communications Group Leadership awardee. “This play is relevant because it crosses through four different time periods across Hollywood filmmaking,” Williams said.

“The Revelations” season opens on Aug. 27 with a preview to “By The Way Meet Vera Stark” and the first public showing is Aug. 28. Fifteen performances will be staged from Aug. 27 to Sept. 20, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

There is an extra performance on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 2 p.m. with a special post-play discussion. A pre-show talk will be held on Sept. 4 at 7:10 p.m. The preview is $10, the premiere is $32, and every performance after that is $29.