SEASON 17 - 2010

Langston & Nicolas

April 2 - May 2, 2010

Havana, 1930. Young journalist Nicolás Guillén harbors dreams of becoming a poet. Langston
Hughes visits Havana in search of a composer for new opera. After Nicolás interviews Langston
for a local newspaper, the two men inimitably bond. Langston’s keen interest in black Cuban life
impresses Nicolás, who guides him to a vibrant Afro‐Cuban club, uncorking an unquenchable
thirst. Meanwhile, their union also profoundly empowers Nicolás—perhaps he can speak for
black Cuba the same way that Langston is speaking for black America?
Hughes leaves Cuba, but their profound connection is kept alive through letters (to the discovery
and disdain of Guillén’s wife). A fever dream inspires Guillén to write poetry marrying the
vernacular of contemporary black Cuba with the native musical style of Son (mirroring Hughes’
poetic mesh of African‐American vernacular and Blues music). The play explores their friendship
over the next thirty years—covering the Spanish War, the Cuban Revolution and the Civil Rights
movement—to Hughes’ death in 1967. As with all friendships, theirs is a tapestry woven of joy,
conflict and demands from each other—some that are met, some that are not.

 

The Ensemble

Brian Evaret Chandler - Armando Ortega

Justin Alston - Chris Rivas

Maggie Palomo - Ana Maria - Garry Bates - Ulf Bjorlin 

Claudia Blair - Gabriella Delgado-Deluy

Dane Diamond - Johnny Gallegos

Kyle Hamilton - Leslie La'Raine - Tené Carter Miller - Carlos San Miguel - Karl Steudel 

REVIEWS

Entertainment Today

Written by Travis Michael Holder

April 21,2010

 

In Bernardo Solano’s riveting new work Langston & Nicolás, now debuting from the Towne Street Theatre Company at the Stella Adler, when controversial African-American poet Langston Hughes visited Havana in 1930, he quickly discovered on a tour of hotspots in the city that he wanted to be “as black as the music” he heard all around him. But to Cuban journalist Nicolás Guillén, later to become the country’s post-revolutionary poet laureate after a lengthy political exile from his native country by dictator Fulgencio Batista, Hughes was the man with all the potential to lead his people, a man he considered to be the “future of the black race” in the United States.

 

Four years before the initial meeting between these two great men, Hughes had published what would be considered his manifesto, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, in The Nation, considered in its time to be the flagship for the Left:

 

“The younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly, too. The tom-tom cries, and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain free within ourselves.”

 

There couldn’t be anything more difficult for a playwright than getting all the facts out there when writing a marathon-length historical play, while still leaving an audience caring about the real, once breathing people whose story is being told. Solano has managed to do just that superbly and without preaching in Langston & Nicolás, a sweeping epic spanning nearly four decades in the passionate yet often contentious friendship between Hughes and Guillén.

 

With the invaluable aid of director Nancy Cheryll Davis, founding artistic and producing director of Towne Street—who is also here credited for the conception of this notably imaginative construction featuring rousing music, spirited dance, and factoring in some of these two gifted writers’ most fervent and still enduring poetry—Solano has created a remarkable piece of theatrical literature.

 

With each of the title characters portrayed by two different actors (Justin Alston and Chris Rivas as, respectively, the younger Hughes and Guillén, replaced after intermission by the more mature Brian Evaret Chandler and Armando Ortega in the same roles), Solano conjures the often problematic lifelong camaraderie between these two amazing mixed-race artists that began 80 years ago when Guillén was assigned to interview Hughes during his trip to Cuba. Hughes was by then already a controversial figure in America for his bold early socialist leanings, particularly for writing an infamous poem proclaiming Karl Marx as the new Jesus Christ, a savior to a troubled world that, sadly, never listened to his advice.

 

Himself weary of living in a country where blacks were sick of being thought of as only a serving class and “tired of being exotic,” Guillén instantly connected with Hughes (“Questions often say more about the person asking, don’t you think?” he asks prophetically in Solano’s script) and the two men alternately agreed and quarreled on most every issue facing them over the years in their inequitable era of strange fruit swinging from trees in the American south and the courageous beginnings of Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution.

 

As Guillén listened to Hughes’ suggestion to give up his structured life to focus on morphing into the contentious poet he was meant to be, becoming more and more radical in his writing over the years, the fearful Hughes began to instead modify his stance on affairs of state and America’s racial situation, partly from fear and partly from the increasingly more comfortable lifestyle to which he had happily become accustomed. 

 

“I like to be selective about what I destroy,” he writes to his friend, who begins to realize in return that the “combative are exiled, the docile rewarded.” Until his death from prostate cancer in 1967, Hughes’ own increasingly timidity puzzled both he and Guillén, fracturing and alienating their nearly obsessive friendship and devotion to one another.  In 1951, Hughes wrote honestly of his spiritual and political conundrum in his poem, What Happened to a Dream Deferred?: “Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore And then run?”

 

Davis has fashioned a masterful production, smartly designed and lit by Nathaniel Bellamy, splendidly costumed by Nancy Reneé, and featuring an incredibly contagious original score by Dane Diamond that even manages to successfully set one of Hughes’ most famous poems to music. The wide but shallow Adler stage, made solid by Bellamy’s expressionistic video backdrops that take us from Havana nightclubs to the Brooklyn Bridge to Franco’s Spain in 1937, is impressively filled with an enormous cast of 17, sometimes in Davis’ hands leaving the impression that there are many more in the cast as they assay different characters and wind through Havana, Madrid, Europe, and Harlem over the course of time.

 

Ana Maria Lagasca is a standout as the suspicious young wife of Guillén and later as Hughes’ troubled mistress Elsie Roxborough, both Dane Diamond and Tené Carter Miller have memorable turns reciting Hughes’ provocative poetry, Leslie La’Raine dances like the wind to Nancy Reneé’s angular choreography, and potential Abercrombie & Fitch discovery Kyle Hamilton makes such a surprisingly stern-faced entrance as that notorious anti-Christ Roy Cohn ready to grill Hughes at the McCarthy hearings that one audience member when I attended let out an extremely loud and suitably panicky “Uh-oh.”

 

Yet, in all honesty, some of Davis’ players here are clearly stage veterans and some are… well… just manifestly sincere at what they do. Truly, however, this unevenness and occasional lack of more seasoned acting chops from some members of the ensemble proves to ultimately be something as quirkily infectious as the work of the more experienced performers in Davis and Solano’s heartfelt and colossally determined project.

Tolucan Times

 Written by Pat Taylor

April 15,2010

 

Langston & Nicolas—“Two Men, one voice.” A world premiere. A gripping and historical true story, a huge and colorful multi-racial cast, hot blooded music, dance and poetry, and lots of heartfelt emotion… This is a fabulous and exciting journey! In development for many years by the dedicated Towne Street Theatre folks, they hope to eventually produce it in a larger Equity theatre (…and deservedly so, cross fingers). It was written passionately by Bernardo Solano, and conceived and powerfully directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis. Davis made countless boldly innovating directorial choices, and the eerie vignette scenes behind scrim screens were mesmerizingly effective. The story chronicles the complex three generation friendship of two men… both iconic literary figures. Langston Hughes, the Negro originator of jazz poetry, and Nicolas Guillen, the poet laureate of Cuba, shared visions and dreams that transcended the conventional world viewpoints. Meeting in the 1930’s in Cuba, they formed a devoted friendship. Both were driven by the value of art and culture, in uniting nations and people. Through many letters, and occasional meetings in various countries, their personal bond thrived. Both men’s controversial writings made impact with the people, but each met their share of political resistance at the same time through the years. Four captivating actors play Langston and Nicolas with equal perfection and skill. As the younger duo: Justin Alston and Chris Rivas. As the older pair: Brian Evaret Chandler and Armando Ortega. All smolderingly solid, as their union spanned the Spanish Civil War, the Cuban Revolution, and the Civil Rights movement. Nathaniel Bellamy’s ingeniously beautiful set, lighting, and video design, the original music and musical direction of Dane Diamond, and Nancy Renee’s hot choreography and gorgeous period costuming (spanning the 30’s through the 60’s) set the mood with scintillating pizzazz! With a commendable cast of actor/ singer/dancers… I can’t possibly name them all… but I must applaud the sinfully sassy standout portrayal of Ana Marie in two roles! This is a heartwarming, life affirming story, and a passionately pulsating show, with a Latin flavored onstage band. What’s not to love? Make a point of seeing this one! Running Fridays and Saturdays at 8 P.M, and Sundays at 3, through May 2nd, at the Stella Adler Theater (6773 Hollywood Blvd. in Hollywood) upstairs.

 

 

LA Weekly

Written by Amy Nicholson

Thursday, Apr 29 2010

 

 It was 1930 When Langston Hughes met Cuba's Poet Laureate–to–be Nicolas Guillen, and the two young writers — both born with the turn of that century — were burning with ambition and the awareness that their mulatto skin was their fuel. Though Harlem's darling and a martyr's son shared the same color and considered themselves soul mates, over the next 37 years, different pressures splintered their brotherhood during the Spanish Revolution and proved an unbridgeable gulf during the '60s, when Hughes was persecuted in McCarthy's courtroom and Guillen was celebrated in Castro's revolution. At stake is the power of poetry — and the duty of the poet to back up his words. Bernardo Solano and Nancy Cheryll Davis' lyrical, decades-spanning play is one-part plot, one-part playtime, with frequent dips into dance, music and recitation. The enthusiastic 17-person ensemble fills the stage, as charismatic leads Justin Alston and Chris Rivas, and later the stately Brian Evert Chandler and Armando Ortega, hit the big points on the time line. Though it's plenty smart, the political charge is dissipated by intimations that the artists were more than friends — or at least hoped to be. It's a pointless distraction, albeit one that comes with Ana Maria Lagasca and Maggie Palomo's charming turns as Guillen's jealous wife. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 2. (323) 465-4446. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: April 9. Continues through May 2, 2010

 

 

From The Audience

 

“I've never seen anything like this.”

“Everyone was in the moment – all the actors were fantastic!”

“The choreography and music were amazing...”

“The set and projections were awesome...

 

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“I loved this play.”

“Bravo! Superb!”

“Brilliant direction!”

“I was so moved by this piece...”

“I liked the readings and really dug the production...”

 

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“It’s really important to let people know the shared history of African Americans and Latinos.”

 

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“I want to make sure my grandchildren see this piece...”

 

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TST’s "Langston and Nicolás" is a fine production. Bernardo Solano's script tells a great story that skilled direction allowed the actors to present very well supported by first-rate production values.

 

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Nancy, Nathaniel & Nancy,

 

It was good to see the three of you on Saturday night still carrying out

the dream. I wanted to CONGRATULATE Towne Street Theatre on your

17 years of providing Los Angeles with on-going theatrical programming and

COMMEND you for your commitment to artists of color and for providing a

platform for those artists to develop and to present their work.

 

I wish you much success with Langston & Nicolás.

 

Adleane Hunter

Director/Producer

 

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“Wonderful production ...You deserve recognition for commissioning Langston & Nicolás...

the reasons you stated for forming TownStreet and conceiving the play are very noteworthy...

You all are doing an exceptional job!”

Celebrating our 26th Season!

CONTACT:

info@townestreetla.org

(213) 712-6944

MAILING ADDRESS:

Towne Street Theatre

4101 Budlong Ave., Suite 4

Los Angeles, CA 90037

IN RESIDENCE:

Stella Adler Theatre

6773 Hollywood Blvd.

Los Angeles, CA 90028

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