What better way to celebrate Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes, affectionately known as “Shakespeare in Harlem,” than with a one-person-dramatic rendition of Langston Hughes’ poems and short stories.
The show is no mere recitation of Hughes’ work. Actor and writer David Mills’ performance takes the audience on an odyssey spanning five decades—from the 1920s-through the 1960s– of Hughes’ writings, where Mr. Mills portrays Hughes’ notable characters, such as Madam Alberta K. Johnson and Jessie B. Simple. Mr. Mills enacts excerpts of Hughes’ iconic, poetry collection “Montage of A Dream Deferred,” too. Hughes’ work lends itself to dramatic interpretation because Langston frequently wrote persona poems (poems in the first-person voices of people such as the aforementioned Alberta K.)
Mr. Mills brings to life Hughes’ black characters– individuals who migrated to Harlem during the early 20 th century. Mr. Mills’ performance highlights Hughes’ unending love for Harlem– with its foibles and fantasies, its beauty and brutality. Mr. Mills plays both white and black Americans, young and old, and male and female characters whom Langston created. While bringing all these voices to life, Mr. Mills also sings snippets of songs from the different eras Hughes wrote about.
The show explores Hughes’ penchant for both humor and pathos. And Mr. Mills dramatically interprets Langston Hughes’ contribution to modernist poetry– the blues poem. Hughes’ classic pieces such as “I’ve Known Rivers,” “Mother to Son,” “Theme for English B” and “I, Too” are enacted alongside lesser-known, but equally powerful
Hughes poems such as Merry Go Round, and Advice, giving the audience a nuanced look at Langston. Mr. Mills also performs the short-stories “Thank You Ma’am and ‘There Ought to Be a Law’—where he portrays Hughes’ iconic character, Jesse B. Simple. The hilarious, ironic and little known Hughes short story, “Rock, Church.” is one of the show’s centerpieces.