“The Black Clown” is anything but light-hearted

Langston Hughes poem transformed in striking stage work at American Repertory Theater through Sept. 23


Raider Times photo / Maggie Hall

A scene from "The Black Clown," which is playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Sept. 23, 2018.

Sarah Vail, Raider Times staff

If you were to search the internet for “The Black Clown” a couple years ago, you would have found pages analyzing and discussing the monologue from 1931, written by Langston Hughes.

“The Black Clown” highlights the life of an African-American in the United States. This impassioned piece touches base on all things from slavery to systematic discrimination and all of the effects these events had on the African-American community. On Aug. 31, this monologue was performed in a completely new, yet equally harrowing way for the first time anywhere on the American Repertory Theater stage.

In 2009, Davone Tines and Michael Schachter noticed the depth and relevance of “The Black Clown” and decided to adapt it. Soon enough, this poem was brought to stage in a 70-minute play that takes you through hundreds of years of African-American hardships.

The play opens with Tines on stage in nothing but dress pants, suspenders, and an undershirt. Throughout the show, we are presented with a plethora of costumes representing styles that are significant to the time period (1931). These beautiful costumes are complemented by a minimalistic, yet powerful set that involves creative use of silk screens and shadows. The set design in this show conveyed the ever-changing mood in a seamless manner.

Beyond just the well-thought out design aspects of the show, the choreography and singing was breathtaking. Every cast member had a powerful voice and presence that portrayed varying levels of emotions and intensity. It was clear straight from the beginning that the cast has copious amounts of talent.

The songs were all excerpts from the monologue that were accompanied by jazz and other styles that have rich African-American roots. In everything from costumes to music choice, this show took you through the sentiments of an entire community during some of the darkest times in American history and left you feeling anything other than lighthearted. It is no wonder that when you search the internet for “The Black Clown” today, you are struck with page among page praising this touching play.

Even if you don’t frequent the theater, see it before it closes Sept. 23. There’s something for everyone to take away from this enlightening and moving show.

(For more information about “The Black Clown” and the American Repertory Theater, go to https://americanrepertorytheater.org/shows-events/the-black-clown/.)

–Sept. 13, 2018–