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Are you now, or have you ever been…MetroStage

Jordan Wright
October 10, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes

Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Carlyle Brown’s play about the investigation and inquisition of Langston Hughes by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) is a deeply moving, profoundly disturbing probe into the mind of a successful Black American poet.  Under the guidance of Joseph McCarthy, these televised courtroom investigations were led by the notorious Roy Cohn, advisor to Richard Nixon and later mentor to Donald Trump, the Senate Subcommittee turns their search to uncover Communists into a witch hunt the likes of which America had never seen.  Like Hitler’s civilian spies it turned the country into a nation of informants – with people putting forth names of co-workers and friends to save their own skin.  That many of them had no connection to the actual Communist Party, nor knew anything more than workers had rights and blacks were equal in the USSR, was of no consequence to these self-righteous Senators.

The investigation into, and “blacklisting” of, the lives of hundreds of actors, writers, gays, etc. ruined their lives, careers, and businesses – all in the name of rooting out a misperceived Communist and anti-Christian influence on American society.  It turned the country upside down at the time.

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor, as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday

(l-r) Michael Sharp Wood, Van Meter, Josh Taylor, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Russell Sunday ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

In this newly developed treatment of Brown’s play, Composer William Knowles adds verve to the drama adding original music to background life in 1953 Harlem and, later, the needle-sharp drama of the hearings.  Knowles incorporates period Blues, Jazz and Cabaret songs to animate the rhythms and patterns of Hughes’ famous poems.   It’s set in the period of the Harlem Renaissance when, as Hughes puts it, “Negroes were in vogue.”  Until they weren’t.

It is a sinuous story set to music that weaves in and out of Hughes’ most profound thoughts, highlighting his poetry and underpinning his trial in dramatic fashion.  For those familiar with Hughes’ poems it will be a pleasure to renew your acquaintance with “The Weary Blues”, The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Harlem Dance Hall”, “Good Morning Revolution” and others.

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

Director Thomas W. Jones II does an outstanding job with a diverse cast that brings the necessary gravitas to the story.  The six-member cast not only sings and dances in a number of styles of the period, but moves effortlessly through a number of roles and wardrobe changes, that is except for lead actor Marcus Naylor as Langston who tackles the role with virtuosity.  The one-acter builds to a crescendo with Hughes’ interrogation by Cohn (played impressively by Marni Penning) who eviscerates the poet piecemeal.  The parallels to today’s news are staggering.

Also notable is Wood Van Meter as David Schine, who has a wonderful voice and whose solos are explosive.  Michael Sharp as Senator Joseph McCarthy, Russell Sunday as Senator Everett Dirksen and Josh Thomas as Frank Reeves round out this excellent cast.

Carl Gudenius and Shuxing Fan employ an effective set design of large trapezoidal panels that allow for Hughes words, plus photos and videos of the period, to accommodate designer Robbie Hayes’ evocative projections.

Highly recommended.  An unforgettable night of theatre.

Through November 5th at MetroStage 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter

(l-r) Michael Sharp, Russell Sunday, Josh Thomas, Marcus Naylor as Langston Hughes, Marni Penning, Wood Van Meter ~ Photo credit Chris Banks

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