Stage West Theater in Fort Worth Texas sold all their tickets for the last matinee performance of “Are You Now, Or Have You Ever Been…” by Carlyle Brown. It’s about one of poet Langston Hughes’ testimonies to the McCarthy anticommunist committee in 1953.
“Are You Now…” in Ft Worth
People who attended because they wanted to get more insight into the great poet and his poetry, or people who just like to see a well-done one-man performance, were probably quite pleased.
Those of us who wanted to see an uplifting portrayal of America’s fight against fascism, or at least wanted to gather insight into what happened during the McCarthy period so we can avoid it now, were severely disappointed.
There were two acts. Djore’ Nance performed alone and made an effort to give an insight into Langston Hughes, his times, and his work. In other words, it was essentially a lecture. It was a very good lecture and well performed, but still a lecture.
In the second act, Christopher Dontrell Piper played Hughes’ lawyer and sat beside him while off-site questions came from, supposedly, Senator Dirksen, anti-communist spokesperson David Schine, top anti-communist prosecutor Roy Cohn, and the infamous McCarthy himself. Piper had about two lines, so the second act was about like the first, all Nance. The responses to the investigators were, apparently, mostly taken from the actual testimony in 1953.
Hughes did not stand up to Mc Carthism. He avoided any kind of confrontation. He didn’t defend his rights or anybody’s. He ended his testimony with a loving endorsement of the entire process. Yes, he probably had to. Dozens of otherwise good people caved in to McCarthyism and hardly anybody opposed it. But why make a play about it?
Why not, instead, make a play about Paul Robeson or Dashiell Hammett, or one of the others who fought back as well as they could and suffered the consequences?
The audience rose to their feet and applauded as the play closed, but they also headed for the door. I could hardly wait to get out of there. There was far more information, and more meaningful content, in the playbill than there was in the play. YouTube has dozens of more worthwhile works.