It's the early 1930s, and Vera Stark (the amazing and beautiful Sanaa Lathan) works as a maid for the ravingly self-centered, mediocre actress Gloria Mitchell (played with great elan by Stephanie J. Block). Vera also wants to act, but there is little opportunity for African-American performers. Over time, both Vera and Gloria find out just what they are willing to do to be on the silver screen. Rounding out the story are a 1973 talk show appearance by Vera and a 2003 symposium on her career.
Nottage mixes satire, compassion, and serious commentary on racism into a hysterically funny, ultimately touching stew. While her satire can be quite pointed (the people speaking at the symposium are etched in acid), her writing is anchored in compassion and a sweet sense of the ridiculousness of being human. The show is well-directed by Jo Bonney, and among the other performers Daniel Breaker and Karen Olivo deserve particular kudos.
The brilliant Ruined was arguably the most upsetting show I've ever seen; Nottage calibrated the emotional trajectory of the show perfectly. Vera Stark is often delightfully silly, with dips into high-stakes reality, and Nottage's calibration is again perfect. It's as though an elegant ballet dancer turned out to be a great football receiver. It's that range thing, and it's amazing.
($56 seats, side front orchestra)