Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Beholding the Armenian Burrito

Siunik Armenian Grill
1707 Chestnut Ave., Glenview

What I ate: Steak Kabob wrap with various toppings

This is undoubtedly more than you need to know about Siunik Armenian Grill, but I feel compelled to mention that it resides in the building that used to house fRedhots & Fries, a gourmet sausage emporium--à la Hot Dougs--that I used to visit.

Its location in Glenview is across the street from Pizano's, one of my favorite pizza places, and Siunik used to have a location in Skokie.

I actually came across it through Yelp in looking for an alternative to Pita Inn--a terrific Mediterranean restaurant on Dempster in Skokie--which is always packed to the point of not easily finding a parking spot or a table during lunchtime. A listing for Siunik on Oakton in Skokie came up, but their website indicates that they are now only in Glenview, which I confirmed with the owner, a friendly guy named Levon who runs the place with help from his mom.

Given that "Armenian Grill" is part of the restaurant's name, I think it sufficiently counts as representing the cuisine of Armenia for my Chicago Dining World Tour.

But as Levon explained, his primary offering is more his own concoction than expressly similar to what is found in Armenia.

Basically beginning with a traditional Armenian wrap on flatbread (lavash) or onion sumac, with a choice of ground beef (lula), chicken, steak, pork or red beans, Siunik then invites customers to choose a side, salad and topping to add into the wrap, essentially creating what Levon called an "Armenian burrito."

I went with a Steak Kabob wrap on lavash, with rice pilaf, house salad and hummus added into the mix.

It was quite good.

And not altogether unlike a burrito, albeit with unique flavorings and terrifically tender cubes of steak.

My friend Ken, once again joining me for a gastro-ethnic adventure, went with the Lunch Special for $4.95.

This included one lula kabob (i.e. ground beef), two pieces of chicken and two pieces of steak, with rice pilaf, house salad and hummus. This came as a plate, not a wrap, and included pieces of fresh pita bread.

Ken declared this also to be very good, and as with other ethnic restaurants we have visited together, he is planning a return visit to Siunik in the near future.

We both topped off our delicious meals with a piece of Honey Cake, which was also rather savory without being overly sweet or heavy. (photo below)

Also including a pair of Diet Cokes, the two of us got out of there for under $20.

Not bad for a unique, filling and tremendously tasty meal, with Levon amiably checking on our satisfaction and genuine thanking us for our visit.

So while noting that Siunik Armenian Grill isn't where Yelp says it is (as of this writing), it is very much worth finding--and enjoying.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Pithy Philosophies - #6

Seth Saith:

Many people seem to drive with a goal of being first, or to go as fast as possible at all times.

My goal is simply to get where I'm going while being comfortable. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Frank Imagery: Photographing My Way Wright Down Forest Ave. in Oak Park

I first became fascinated by Frank Lloyd Wright and his brilliant architecture 20 years ago, in 1993, likely right around this time.

Although I had grown up in the Chicago area, with a childhood enchantment with architecture and a sister who would study it, I don't recall knowing--or certainly much caring--about Wright through college or my time living in California from 1990-1992.

I don't think I had ever gone to Oak Park--Wright's home from 1889-1909 and the city with the largest concentration of his work--nor had I visited any of his glorious California houses during my time in the Los Angeles area (though I would later).

This memory and chronology may not quite be exact, but after returning to Skokie in early January 1993, I went to Europe for the first time (London and Paris, with side trips to Liverpool and Giverny) in May of that year.

Although I'd always cherished and explored Chicago, and L.A. for that matter, I believe it was my  experiences in Europe that truly turbo-charged my passion for becoming a tourist in my hometown, something I think everyone should do.

One aspect of this in 1993 was making a point of discovering classic movie theaters that still dotted the Chicago landscape, and though not quite as acute, I continue to relish old movie houses from the 1920s and such.

But I became even more ravenous about exploring the works of Wright, visiting his Home & Studio in Oak Park, seeing most of his homes (plus Unity Temple) in Oak Park and neighboring River Forest, elsewhere in the Chicago area, several in Madison, WI, his SC Johnson Wax building in Racine and subsequently places like the Guggenheim Museum in New York--my first visit to NYC was also in 1993, but only for a day, so I don't think I got to the Guggenheim--the Robie House in Chicago's Hyde Park, Taliesin in Spring Green, WI, the California homes, Fallingwater (near Pittsburgh) and many others. (Most I've only seen externally, but I have likely been inside at least 20 FLW homes & buildings.)

The Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio is at the corner of Chicago Ave. & Forest Ave. in Oak Park, and six other homes he designed or modified can be found on a 2-block stretch of Forest heading south from the home & studio, plus one other great one that sits just off of Forest on Elizabeth Court.

Though there are many other Wright homes in Oak Park and River Forest, making the area a prime destination for fans of America's greatest architect, I consider Forest Ave. the mecca of the mecca.

Though I believe I took my first walking tour of Forest Avenue in the spring or summer of 1993, that fall I got a job in Oak Park--about 45 minutes from Skokie--and would frequently drive down the famed street. That only lasted a year, but I've probably gotten to Oak Park at least once a year since, either to peruse the Wright sites or those related to the city's other favorite son, Ernest Hemingway.

As I wrote about in my most recent blog post, this Wednesday I went to Oak Park to try a Venezuelan restaurant called Aripo's, as part of my Chicago Dining World Tour. After also catching a movie, which enabled to rains to clear, I took a pleasant stroll down Forest Avenue.

Though I've seen these homes, and taken similar photos, many times, I thought I would share them here. Note that the homes are traditionally named for their original occupants, who commissioned Wright to design (or in some cases, remodel) them.

Frank W. Thomas House, 1901
Peter A. Beachy House, 1906
Arthur Heurtley House, 1902
Edward R. Hills House (remodeling, a.k.a. Hills-DeCaro House), 1906
Mrs. Thomas H. Gale House, 1909 (on Elizabeth Court)
Nathan G. Moore House, 1895 & 1923
Above two photos: Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, 1889 & 1898
The following four photos are of Oak Park FLW homes not on Forest Avenue and not shot on my most recent visit:

William E. Martin House, 636 N. East Ave., 1903
William G. Fricke House, 540 Fair Oaks Ave., 1901-02
Oscar B. Balch House, 611 N. Kenilworth Ave., 1911
Harry S. Adams House, 710 Augusta St., 1913-14

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Chicago Dining World Tour: Don't Fear the Arepa -- Venezualan Sandwich Shop Delights

118 N. Marion St., Oak Park

What I ate: La Nuestra Arepa; Cazón (minced shark) Empanada; Papelón con Limón (Venezuelan lemonade)

If you search for "Venezuelan Restaurant Chicago" on Google or Yelp, Aripo's Venezuelan Arepa House is the first listing and the only place cited that seems to explicitly offer cuisine from Venezuela.

It is located in Oak Park, which isn't exactly next door to Skokie, but other than perhaps Evanston (which is), likely my favorite Chicago suburb.

So with the opportunity to go to Oak Park on Wednesday, I tied a visit to Aripo's to a matinee of Star Trek Into Darkness at the classic Lake cinema and--after the rains cleared--a delightful stroll, as always, along Forest Ave., a.k.a. mecca for fans of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which I've long been. (I'll post some pictures in the next couple days.)

Aripo's is located along Marion St. just south of Lake St., near several other appealing-looking eateries.

While I likely would have been sufficiently covered by the awning, I chose not to eat outside on a rainy day, but dining al fresco there would seemingly be rather pleasant with warmth and sunshine in abundance.

Although its menu also includes appetizers, empanadas, salads, bowls and three "Venezuelan Specialties," Aripo's mainstay clearly appears to be the Arepa, or perhaps more accurately, sandwiches on such.

Aripo's website describes the Arepa as "Venezuela's every-day bread" made from a "mix or water, cornmeal and salt."

"Once cooked, the Arepa is split open like a pocket and stuffed with a variety of fillings that are as diverse as the Venezuelan culture."

At Aripo's, 18 different arepas are listed, with fillings including roasted pork, shredded chicken, ham, chorizo, eggs and vegetarian options.

I went with arepa selection A8, La Nuestra - The Pabellón Arepa = Shredded beef, black beans, fried plantains, and shredded white cheese. 

On the menu, this item is prominently accompanied by a badge proclaiming it Number One - Everyone's Favorite.

Good enough to entice me, but as I don't like beans, in asking for them to be held I was offered avocado instead.

The end result was truly scrumptious, as I love plantains, the shredded beef was really tasty, the bun (i.e. arepa) was delicious and the avocado was a nice touch.

This would have made a sufficiently filling lunch in itself, perhaps accompanied by a split appetizer had I a companion, but having driven all the way to Oak Park for Venezuelan food, I felt I should venture beyond just the Arepa.

So I ordered an empanada, which I've also enjoyed or noted as part of Argentinean, Costa Rican, Cuban, Peruvian and Jamaican culinary explorations.

Empanada choices included shredded beef, shredded chicken, ground beef, white cheese and more, but I was intrigued by Cazón = Minced Caribbean shark.

For a moment I thought that perhaps I shouldn't eat shark, as I wouldn't want one to eat me, or even to be destroyed for food purposes, but as a non-vegetarian that would seem to entail standing on rather selective principle.

The empanada was perfectly fried and while I cannot describe--as I couldn't truly discern--what shark meat tasted like, the whole thing was really good.

As was the cup of Papelón con Limón, described on the menu as Venezuelan lemonade but actually made from limes and brown sugar.

Of Aripo's three dessert selections, I was intrigued by Mango Mousse and was a bit disappointed to learn that the restaurant was out of it. So after I left I stopped at the Sugar Fixé pâtisserie across the way for a pretty good raspberry macaron.

But except for the missing mousse, my visit to Aripo's was delicious and delightful, and while the La Nuestra arepa, shark empanada and Venezuelan lemonade each had certain similarities to flavors I've savored elsewhere, they were--like Aripo's seems to be on the Chicagolandscape--rather unique. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wauconda Wild Side: Lake County Museum Proves to be a Delightful Discovery

Museum Recap

Lake County Discovery Museum
27277 N. Forest Preserve Rd., Wauconda, IL
Visited May 19, 2013
Special Exhibits seen: Mucha: Expanding Art Nouveau; Modern Masters

As much of what I write about and champion on this blog hopefully portrays, I am a great believer in the importance of culture in myriad forms.

Given the ravages of the economy and the changes brought on by the digital age, I am consequentially quite empathetic to the challenges faced by cultural institutions of all sizes.

This prefaces why I was tremendously impressed by the Lake County Discovery Museum on my first visit there this past Sunday.

Was this interdisciplinary outpost located within the Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda--a far northwest suburb of Chicago--one of the best museums I've ever been to?

Of course not, speaking as someone who has been to most of Chicago's great museums and well over 100 worldwide, including such famed art galleries as the Louvre, Prado, Uffizi and Hermitage.

But as someone with such wherewithal, I can honestly say that the LCDM was well worth 2 hours of my time and $6 of my money. In fact, I found my visit more fulfilling than some to more prestigious museums, including the Chicago History Museum, which charges $14 for entry (though a recent free visit there was enjoyable).

So as I illustrate this pleasant 'Discovery'--including two temporary art exhibits: Mucha: Expanding Art Nouveau and Modern Masters--through the photos below, take this as not just a recommendation that you visit the Lake County Discovery Museum if you have a free day, but as an appreciation of a cultural resource that seems to be utilizing its presumably limited budget in rather remarkable fashion.

In front of the museum is a replicated Mastodon, which correlates to
exhibits inside about the natural history of Lake County.
My primary impetus for visiting the museum were two special exhibits, the first being Mucha: Expanding Art Nouveau,
about the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. Though limited in scope, the exhibit is well-curated, with this reproduction
of a French storefront designed by Mucha being a highlight.

Many of the Mucha pieces shown are gleaned from the museum's Curt Teich Postcard Archives,
which includes a number of posters and other objects as well, such as this plate.
Czech out these stamps featuring designs by Mucha.
The special exhibit Modern Masters features artworks--primarily lithographs, not paintings--by artists within the
schools of Cubism, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, such as these works by Dali.
A drawing by Modigliani.
A crayon drawing by Chagall in a book autographed by him.
In addition to works by many artists with whom I was familiar, such as Miro, Magritte, Calder,
Chagall, Arp, Ernst, Giocometti, Leger, Man Ray and others, there is a nice representation of
lesser known artists, such as this piece by Marino Marini.
The museum's Curt Teich Postcard Archives, from an old Chicago postcard manufacturer, is the world's largest public
collection of postcards. Many different types of postcards were on display--including several Mucha ones--as well as insights such as the Curt Teich Co. having printed all of the U.S. Military invasion maps during World War II. And that before telephone or email existed in everyday life, people sent postcards to convey messages within a given day.

A particularly rare type of postcard on display are those woven in pure silk, such as this one.
Given my fascination with the Columbian Exposition of 1893, I was particularly interested in this display and
the factoid that the first commercially produced picture postcards in the U.S. were souvenirs of the Fair.
This display piece represents the Eiffel Tower, which factored into the birth of postcards, and the statues
of Paul Bunyon and Babe the Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota, once one of the most photographed sites in the U.S.
Within the permanent collection reflecting various aspects of Lake County history and life is a reel of movies
shot in the county, including The Blues Brothers, Risky Business and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Stars hailing from Lake County include Marlon Brando, Ann Margaret and Jerry Orbach.
Another former resident of Lake County.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Stellar Observations, Strong Performances Make 'Stella & Lou' Rather Likable -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Stella & Lou
a play by Bruce Graham
directed by BJ Jones
Northlight Theatre, Skokie
Thru June 9

There have been few television characters more caustically nasty--in a wonderful way--than Carla Tortelli of Cheers, played for all 11 seasons by Rhea Perlman, who won four Emmys for doing so.

In Bruce Graham's new play, Stella & Lou, which is world premiering at Skokie's Northlight Theatre, Perlman again spends her time in a bar and at times approaches being caustic, but as Stella--a long-divorced Philadelphia nurse who seeks a romance with bar owner Lou (played by Francis Guinan)--she is far from nasty.

Yet still quite wonderful.

As is the always outstanding Guinan, a Steppenwolf ensemble member I've seen in several shows.

Together, these two fine actors--along with a third, Ed Flynn, of the Gift Theatre Company--make a play that doesn't offer much in the way of surprise nonetheless eminently entertaining.

Especially as the 85-minute drama, with a good bit of comedy and romance, proceeds in directions one might readily guess, I won't reveal too much of the storyline.

Essentially it is a play about its title characters, with Flynn's Donnie having a bit of narrative of his own but largely serving to break up the dialogue between Stella and Lou.

Lou's is an old-time Philadelphia bar that its owner seemingly runs by himself primarily for loyal, serious-drinking patrons, of which Donnie is one even if several years younger than the norm.

Which is somewhat how I felt catching this show at a Wednesday matinee, where I believe I was the youngest audience member by at least 20 years.

But having loved Graham's previous play at Northlight, The Outgoing Tide--which was the best play I saw in 2011--and being able to avail myself of a $20 day-of-show discount ticket, I was happy to be among a mature audience, especially given the subject matter of Stella & Lou.

The Outgoing Tide, which starred John Mahoney and Rondi Reed, premiered at Northlight and went on to play at the Galway Arts Festival last summer in Ireland. There, Perlman caught it thanks to Mahoney, who had done a guest spot on Cheers before playing Martin Crane on Frasier (a Cheers spinoff).

As revealed in this Tribune interview with Perlman and in the program for Stella & Lou, although Rhea had met Northlight artistic director and Outgoing Tide/Stella & Lou director BJ Jones after the performance in Ireland, it was through another Cheers castmate--George Wendt--that she was eventually cast as Stella.

Wendt was supposed to star in The Odd Couple at Northlight last fall, but had to drop out during rehearsals due to heart issues.

Jones had commissioned Graham to write Stella & Lou for Northlight after the success of The Outgoing Tide, and had mentioned to Wendt that he could envision Perlman in the role. Wendt told Perlman and faster than she could insult Diane, Rebecca or Cliff--OK, not quite--here she is.

Though it does not have the same heft or gravitas as The Outgoing Tide, a drama that revolves around Alzheimer's disease, Stella & Lou works not only because of the work of Perlman, Guinan and Flynn, but because in depicting a late-in-life romance, Graham's script is plenty smart, even if not exceedingly novel.

I imagine many in the audience could likely relate to issues of carrying on after losing a spouse, appreciating companionship, resisting commitment and contemplating moving to Florida.

And perhaps more pertinent to the young whippersnappers in the crowd--well, me, I guess, at 44--through Stella, Graham makes some savvy observations about Facebook, texting and the digital age that largely parallel my thoughts on how face-to-face communication is being corrupted.

So while Stella & Lou isn't quite The Outgoing Tide, or even a particularly terrific episode of Cheers, it offers a lot to like.

And particularly for just $20, but even a good bit more, its title characters and the wonderful actors who play them, prove to be a couple worth getting to know.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Profile in Courage: Paul Rusesabagina of 'Hotel Rwanda' Brings "Voice for the Voiceless" to DuPage County

Event Recap

Paul Rusesabagina
Fundraiser for the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation
Hosted by the Democratic Party of DuPage County
May 15, 2013

If you haven't seen the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda--and you absolutely should, as it's a terrific movie and important true story--chances are the name Paul Rusesabagina doesn't mean much to you.

But he is a hero.

Like Oskar Schindler and courageous others throughout history, Rusesabagina saved many lives while putting his own at considerable risk.

Hotel Rwanda, in which Rusesabagina is remarkably embodied by Don Cheadle, chronicles his selfless efforts as manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, Rwanda in 1994.

Though this brief synopsis won't do justice to Rusesabagina's exploits, the movie or his book, An Ordinary Man, at great peril to himself Paul essentially hid 1,268 refugees at the hotel in the midst of a genocide arising out of a clash between warring factions in Rwanda (Hutu and Tutsi), almost assuredly saving their lives.

So it seemed that taking a ride out to Lombard for a fundraiser for Rusesabagina's foundation, hosted by the Democratic Party of DuPage County, was not only a very slight effort compared to what the guest of honor had done and seen, but something I should do.

And other than Bob Peickert, chairman of the DuPage Dems--for whom I have done some marketing work over the years--Mr. Rusesabagina was the first person I spoke with after arriving at the King's Hall Banquets, now occupying a space I remembered as once being the second-run Northgate movie theater.

I found Paul to be quite friendly and down-to-earth, and while he pointed out that he is 10 years older than Cheadle, not so unlike the movie version of himself.

As I waited to greet him, Rusesabagina was entertaining a group of Hinsdale South high school students who were at the fundraiser and seemingly quite passionate in learning about a man who had walked in the shadow of death before they were even born.

In his formal speech to a crowd of perhaps 100 or so, Rusesabagina noted that shortly before the genocide erupted--marked, as depicted in Hotel Rwanda, by mass slaughter by machete--he had traveled to Belgium with his family for a managers meeting at the headquarters of Sabena, the Mille Collines' parent company.

Had he any inkling of what would happen in the days ahead, he surely would have stayed in Belgium, or at least left his wife and kids there. For as he related, he arrived back in Rwanda on March 31, 1994--six days before things went to hell (my phrasing, not his).

On the evening of April 6, Paul was having dinner with his brother-in-law and the latter's wife, celebrating her recent college graduation. Around 8:30pm, they heard a missile hitting the plane of Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, who like Paul was part of the Hutu ethnic group. His wife Tatiana and her relatives were Tutsi.

The president and 11 others were killed instantly, setting off a genocide of Tutsis at the hands--and swords--of the Hutus that would see over 500,000 people slaughtered in just 100 days, including Tatiana's brother and sister-in-law, with whom Paul had dined on a day he recalled as "the worst moment in my life."

As shown in the movie--SPOILER ALERT--Paul and Tatiana eventually found their two orphaned nieces in a refugee camp, and subsequently adopted them (joining their four other children).

Thus, it was quite touching and gratifying to hear Rusesabagina--who now lives primarily in Texas, by way of Belgium, where he had left Rwanda for in 1996--that his two adopted daughters are now studying at Georgetown and Northwestern.

Not too surprisingly, given that when I had directly asked him about Hotel Rwanda he said it was nearly a documentary, many of Rusesabagina's remembrances closely echoed events in the film, which I just watched again over the weekend.

He expressed how, every day from the hotel office, he sent faxes to Washington, London, Paris and other world capitals, asking for international help to quell the devastation.

"I knew they weren't coming, but I still wanted to shame them into doing the right thing," Rusesabagina stated in his speech.

Paul also shared how he wound up being #1 on a list of Rwandans to be evacuated during the genocide, along with his family. But as enacted in the movie, he decided he couldn't leave the Mille Collines refugees behind.

"I was the only one who could negotiate with the bad guys not to kill everyone."

Rusesabagina denied acute awareness about why he was designated for--or even particularly disposed to--this pivotal peace broker role, but did offer:
"Whenever there's a conflict, it can be better solved with words than guns."
Through his Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, to which all of the evening's proceeds were directed, Paul remains entirely dedicated to raising awareness about human rights abuses, and especially to preventing future genocides.

In closing his formal remarks, Paul Rusesabagina--who has seen and done things most people never will--urged the integrated crowd to action.

"We need your help. We need everyone to get involved.

"Spread the word. Tell the world leaders: 'Stand up and do the right thing.'

"Help the helpless. Be the voice of the voiceless.

"This is my mission. I hope it can be yours."

Pretty inspiring. And more than reason enough to contribute an extra $20 to get a signed copy of Rusesabagina's book, An Ordinary Man, before heading back to Skokie.

But not before I was advised not to engage with the "Rwandan agents" that were supposedly in the King's Hall parking lot.

Especially given the altruistic, humanitarian and noble tenor of the evening, I certainly hope that everyone--including the guest of honor--made their way to their cars, and home, without incident.

And that Paul Rusesabagina will return to the Chicago area in the not too distant future, so that you, too,  can see and hear a true movie hero share his remarkable real-life story.

To donate to the Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation and/or contact Paul, please visit hrrfoundation.org

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Does Anyone Here Remember Vera Stark? Play's Focus on Black & White Hollywood Feels a Bit Gray -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

By The Way, Meet Vera Stark
by Lynn Nottage
Directed by Chuck Smith
Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Thru June 2

By the way, the recent play titled By The Way, Meet Vera Stark, has several admirable qualities.

It is inventively written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage. It is thematically substantive, about how African-American actors and actresses have largely been marginalized in Hollywood. Despite a poignant topic, it is often quite humorous. And while the first act of the 2-1/2 hour play is better than the second, Vera Stark--the play, and the fictional actress personified at the Goodman by the beautiful Tamberla Perry--is never less than watchable.

But while there is plenty that is good about it, somehow the sum of its parts never reaches the level of greatness.

Though there is savvy writing throughout, I can't say I ever found Meet Vera Stark all that pointed, informative or engrossing.

With the play set in Hollywood over three time periods, Act I takes place in 1933. Gloria Mitchell, played by Kara Zediker, is a vacuous starlet--"America's little sweetheart"--and Vera Stark is her maid.

As the play opens, Vera is helping Gloria memorize lines for an audition for a historical epic called The Belle of New Orleans. It is instantly clear that Vera is just as talented and appealing as Gloria, if not more so, but as the play develops--including interactions with the movie director and studio head--it becomes clear that even if Vera can be "discovered," she will be relegated to playing a slave and (in the future) other subordinate roles designated to keep African-American actors on the periphery.

But while it entertains, raises some contemplative issues and features good performances throughout--from Perry, Zediker, TaRon Patton as Vera's roommate Lottie, Chiké Johnson as her paramour Leroy, Patrick Clear as the studio chief, Ron Rains as the director and Amelia Workman as a friend of Vera and Lottie--the first act feels like a preface. We are led to the point where Vera should get her shot in the movies, but not past it.

Which makes Act II feel like a post-script.

It opens with a rather long movie clip showing Gloria and Vera essentially reprising their real-life roles on screen in The Belle of New Orleans.

I was somewhat surprised with where Nottage and director Chuck Smith take the second act, which features characters in 1993 referencing events in 1973, from which Vera harkens back to 1933 and the years since.

So I won't reveal much about the formatting of Act II, but while rather inventive in itself, with funny flashbacks to '70s fashion, TV, rock stardom and more, it felt a good bit lesser than Act I and didn't add to my tempered enjoyment of By the Way, Meet Vera Stark.

It's clear that there is something important in the gist of what Nottage is trying to say through the character of Vera Stark, but while the play has enough moments to be worthwhile at a subscriber or discount price (HotTix, Goodman box office), the sum of its parts just doesn't feel that legendary.

Nottage has put together a website supporting Vera's backstory at meetverastark.com. It's a nice complement to the play, and can open one's eyes to the central themes even without getting to the Goodman.