Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been...
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of The Price, Our Town and An Act of God

Marcus Naylor
Photo by Chris Banks
Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been..., the current production at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, is an immersive and unsettling work that places the viewer inside the mind of African-American poet Langston Hughes (Marcus Naylor) as he prepared to testify in 1953 before Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Committee on Government Operations, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Reading about the McCarthy period is one thing, but being in the crosshairs of a Senate hearing is something quite different.

Playwright Carlyle Brown depicts Hughes the night before he is to testify, looking back on his life to that point and trying desperately to write a poem that crystallizes his beliefs, followed by a nightmarish look at the hearing where he testified. The heightened atmosphere comes not just from Naylor's simmering performance, but also from the presence of five other performers who both play major roles and serve as phantoms in Hughes' mind—and from the fluid direction of Thomas W. Jones II, who keeps everything in constant motion.

Brown allows Hughes' own words to speak for him throughout, set to an affecting blues and jazz score by William Knowles (who also performs live on keyboard). The poems, acted out and embodied by the performers, recount the excitement of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and, later, the poet's political consciousness.

The first half of the production is sensuous and seductive as the actors slink and sway and Hughes' words swirl in Robbie Hayes' projections on screened panels. In the second half, set in a surreal version of a Senate hearing room, the projections become more realistic while the activity becomes more threatening.

As Hughes attempts to testify, the other performers converge on him and chase him around the stage, led by lawyer Roy Cohn (a totally convincing performance by Marni Penning). They quote from Hughes' more political works and accuse him of writing anti-American screeds rather than "propagandizing the American way of life" as he should.

Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been...
October 5th - November 5th, 2017
Written and conceived by Carlyle Brown
Original music by William Knowles
Langston Hughes: Marcus Naylor
Roy Cohn: Marni Penning
Sen. Joseph McCarthy: Michael Sharp
Sen. Everett Dirksen: Russell Sunday
Frank Reeves: Josh Thomas
David Schine: Wood Van Meter
Directed by Thomas W. Jones II
Music direction and keyboard: William Knowles
1201 N. Royal St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
Ticket Information: 703-548-9044 or