By Laura Fries
alexandrianews.org Theater Review
 

Are You Now or Have You Ever Been... at Meto Stage (Courtesy Image)


Leave it to MetroStage to bring not only timely but downright preternaturally clairvoyant works to its theater. This little seen play, by Carlyle Brown, was performed only once before at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio in 2012. It was already on the books before the current NFL Anthem protests, but cuts right to the heart of the matter by going back in time to the McCarthy hearings of 1953.
 
Relying on subject matter to carry a story would be a cheap trick. “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…” is a thought-provoking play about race, artistic interpretation, hollow patriotism, bad leadership, and poetry.
 
Brown’s fictional account of poet Langston Hughes’ appearance before the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on the Investigations of Un-American Activities is made even more by poignant by the original music of William Knowles as he puts Hughes’ eloquent and then-controversial words into song.
 
Marcus Naylor as Hughes is a force of nature, much like the Georgia wind he writes about. The first half of the one hour and 45-minute one act is nearly all his as he waxes nostalgic and talks shop about the business of poetry. Naylor has a staggering amount of dialogue, but delivers it authentically and with the mania of a poet possessed by words. His fear of the committee and power in corrupt hands is palpable, poignant and unfortunately relevant.  His Hughes warns of the dangers of trying to measure patriotism, faith and intent.
 
He is joined throughout by ghosts and images of his past, while the outstanding ensemble puts his words into song and eventually morph into Langston’s lawyer, Frank Reeves (Josh Thomas), Senator McCarthy (Michael Sharp), Senator Dirksen (Russell Sunday), Roy Cohn (Marni Penning) and David Schine (Wood Van Meter). Their performances are impressive and Penning, especially, produces amazing transformations as several different characters.
 
Director Thomas W. Jones II creates ethereal imagery with projections on willowy screens that serve as the main décor. It’s a practical and visually interesting set design. In fact, Jones uses not only the whole stage but the entire theater to move his players around. His orchestration of whirling podiums works better than some of the early choreography, which seems a bit clunky and distracting by comparison. Still, by exhuming the ghost of McCarthy, and Langston’s powerful words, the play offers a good deal of fuel to current political debates in the most entertaining way.Now or Have You Ever Been….
 
Leave it to MetroStage to bring not only timely but downright preternaturally clairvoyant works to its theater. This little seen play, by Carlyle Brown, was performed only once before at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio in 2012. It was already on the books before the current NFL Anthem protests, but cuts right to the heart of the matter by going back in time to the McCarthy hearings of 1953.
Relying on subject matter to carry a story would be a cheap trick. “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…” is a thought-provoking play about race, artistic interpretation, hollow patriotism, bad leadership, and poetry.
 
Brown’s fictional account of poet Langston Hughes’ appearance before the Senate Permanent Sub-Committee on the Investigations of Un-American Activities is made even more by poignant by the original music of William Knowles as he puts Hughes’ eloquent and then-controversial words into song.
 
Marcus Naylor as Hughes is a force of nature, much like the Georgia wind he writes about. The first half of the one hour and 45-minute one act is nearly all his as he waxes nostalgic and talks shop about the business of poetry. Naylor has a staggering amount of dialogue, but delivers it authentically and with the mania of a poet possessed by words. His fear of the committee and power in corrupt hands is palpable, poignant and unfortunately relevant.  His Hughes warns of the dangers of trying to measure patriotism, faith and intent.
 
He is joined throughout by ghosts and images of his past, while the outstanding ensemble puts his words into song and eventually morph into Langston’s lawyer, Frank Reeves (Josh Thomas), Senator McCarthy (Michael Sharp), Senator Dirksen (Russell Sunday), Roy Cohn (Marni Penning) and David Schine (Wood Van Meter). Their performances are impressive and Penning, especially, produces amazing transformations as several different characters.
 
Director Thomas W. Jones II creates ethereal imagery with projections on willowy screens that serve as the main décor. It’s a practical and visually interesting set design. In fact, Jones uses not only the whole stage but the entire theater to move his players around. His orchestration of whirling podiums works better than some of the early choreography, which seems a bit clunky and distracting by comparison. Still, by exhuming the ghost of McCarthy, and Langston’s powerful words, the play offers a good deal of fuel to current political debates in the most entertaining way.
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