In the Moment: ‘Are you now or have you ever been…’ at MetroStage

As I took in, with a notably racially diverse audience, MetroStage’s top-notch, tense, musically revealing production, Are you now or have you ever been…, so many questions challenged me. The questions were not about production values or acting prowess. After all, the production of playwright Carlyle Brown’s script directed by Thomas W. Jones II has received uniform, well-deserved, positive reviews from my DCMTA colleague William Powell and other reviewers in the DC area.

As with many a production with bite and substance, my questions moved far outside the theater venue. My questions went beyond a specific production, in this case about one particular iconic African-American poet and social activist, Langston Hughes, and into today’s news and Presidential tweets. With its underpinning of illuminating original jazz and blues music (by William Knowles and one piece by William Hubbard), Are you now or have you ever been… is a substantial work of political artistry. It is far from merely an historical drama to be checked-off on a list as seen.

How could I not ask myself: Are there safe courses for progressive artists (and let’s say NFL football players) to take during a precarious cultural zeitgeist? Is safety prudent, if it means survival? As things spin faster and faster into more toxic times for those with open-minded, inclusive values on a wide range of societal issues, should we look backwards to help inform future courses of action?

Even more pointed; what should be the response of an artist when a livelihood is threatened by the ascendant powerful, reactionary, racist or misogynist? Should dreams be deferred? Should favor be curried? Are there unexpected allies that can be called upon, outside of one’s own comfortable world view? Why do we still hold fast that “our” facts in response to rapid fire questions from those against us make a damn bit of difference; rather than merely to bring forth something for others to use to ridicule and pillory in a 140 characters?

And, of course, what would I have done during the Great Red Scare of the late 1940s and early 1950s? Would I have stood up and faced down the powerful? Would I have held fast and not named names? Or would I have crumbled?  In the coming days, as high-powered Tweet storms continue, these questions are not so far-fetched at all. At least for those of with memories of days in the past, both distant and not so long ago.  It can happen here, let’s be clear about that. Isn’t it already outside of a few select urban locations?

Oh, and this one last musing; how will seeing Are you now or have you ever been… further inform those whose knowledge of the real-life, ruthless Roy Cohn comes only from the brilliance of Tony Kushner’s character in Angels in America?

Are you now or have you ever been… at MetroStage is a work of immense political art; something needed in this whirling times as the center continues to fall apart. It also provides a golden opportunity to hear the rhythms of poems by Langston Hughes set to revealing original music along with the visually  informing choreography by Thomas W. Jones II.

Please see Are you now or have you ever been… Then let me know what you think. I am right here at DC Theater Arts waiting to know what you, the diverse range of DCMTA readers and wide ranging DC area theater-goers, think.

Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with no intermission.

Are you now, or have you ever been… plays through November 5, 2017 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 548-9044, or purchase them online.

Note: For those who may not know lots about one of the characters, Frank Reeves, you can learn more about him here.


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David Siegel
David Siegel is a freelance theater reviewer and features writer whose work appears on DC Theater Arts, ShowBiz Radio, in the Connection Newspapers and the Fairfax Times. He is a judge in the Helen Hayes Awards program. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and volunteers with the Arts Council of Fairfax County. David has been associated with theater in the Washington, DC area for nearly 30 years. He served as Board President, American Showcase Theater Company (now Metro Stage) and later with the American Century Theater as both a member of the Executive Board and as Marketing Director. You can follow David's musings on Twitter @pettynibbler.


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