The reviews are in for ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…’

In 1953, poet Langston Hughes was required to appear before the Committee on Un-American Activities to answer Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s accusations on being a Communist.

“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…” is playwright Carlyle Brown’s imagining of Hughes’ sleepless night before appearing in court, as he wrestles with how best to answer the panel.

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Gavin Lawrence (Langston Hughes) in Carlyle Brown & Company’s production of ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…’

Photo by Charissa Uemura

The play, produced by Carlyle Brown & Company and directed by Noel Raymond, has received strong reviews for its seamless merging of poetry and politics.

From Janet Preus at HowWasTheShow.com

The bulk of the play is a one-man show, with Gavin Lawrence as Hughes revealing many more things about himself and his writing life. But these are the context in which his poems are born, and the context that the Senate committee, late in the play, does not have the patience to hear. Lawrence is wonderfully engaging as the writer… Lawrence’s performance of Hughes poems is reason enough to see this show. He really makes the poetry live!

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Gavin Lawrence (Langston Hughes) in Carlyle Brown & Company’s production of ‘Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…’

Photo by Charissa Uemura

From Sophie Kerman at AisleSayTwinCities.com:

…Playwright Carlyle Brown’s way of interweaving speculative musings, impassioned diatribes, and Hughes’ poems themselves is so seamlessly done that the play itself is like poetry to watch…

Are You Now… is a play that, like Hughes’ poetry, opens many doors and refuses to close them or to give the audience too many obvious signposts. Themes circle back on themselves, expanding out or spiraling inward in new and unexpected ways.

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The cast of Carlyle Brown & Company’s production of Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…

Photo by Charissa Uemura

From Rohan Preston at the Star Tribune:

Playwright Brown, who also plays Hughes’ lawyer at the hearing, infuses this one-act with Hughes’ poetry. In fact, Lawrence often makes the poems sing, delivering them with such force and power that audiences interrupt the action with applause.

Its intellectual heft is part of what’s so compelling about “Are You Now.” This is a play about the power of ideas and also the difficulty of pinning down the imagination.

From Renee Valois at the Pioneer Press:

My companion was so infuriated by the actions of the committee that he said he had to keep reminding himself these were actors. The McCarthy era was a dark one for America, and Brown’s story shines some light on how it affected those victimized by the violent prejudice against “communists” – while also reflecting on attitudes toward race and art.

“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been…” runs through May 20 in the Dowling Studio of the Guthrie Theater.

Have you seen it? If so, share your review in the comments section.

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