Isaac Butler in Slate:
Lynn Nottage is the only living American playwright to have won the Pulitzer Prize multiple times. Her first one came in 2009 for Ruined, a drama about a small bar in a mining town in the Congo that serves soldiers from both sides of that country’s civil war. She received her second Pulitzer in 2017 for Sweat, a drama about the downfall of Reading, Pennsylvania, that largely takes place in a bar frequented by union workers as they find themselves caught between solidarity and trying to make rent.
Yet there’s another side to Nottage. She’s also a keen satirist with an eye toward metatheatrical playfulness. Nowhere is this more on display than in her 2011 By The Way, Meet Vera Stark, currently being revived at the Signature Theatre in New York. Vera Starktells the story of a little-known but much beloved black actress in Hollywood’s golden age. The first act is a screwball comedy in which Vera and several of her friends vie for roles in The Belle of New Orleans, a melodrama about a prostitute whose wealthy beau doesn’t realize she’s only passing for white. The second act ping-pongs between a talk show appearance by Vera in the 1970s and an academic panel about her work and legacy in the 2000s. What in lesser hands could feel more like a treatise than a play instead becomes a multifaceted and hilarious look at race, gender, colorism, and representation.