Langston Hughes in the Dallas News

Stage West in Fort Worth tackles the McCarthy hearings' harassment of poet Langston Hughes

Michael Granberry, Arts Writer, Dallas News

More than 64 years have passed since Sen. Joseph McCarthy convened hearings, during which he summoned to Capitol Hill almost 400 witnesses to testify against themselves and others. History has come to regard the hearings as a weapon of political persecution, wielded by a demagogue, who served as a Republican senator from Wisconsin from 1947 until his death in 1957. 

In December 1954, the Senate voted to censure McCarthy, about whom the leader of his own party, President Dwight Eisenhower, once said: "I will not get in the gutter with that guy."

McCarthy looms increasingly as an infamous figure for having targeted American citizens, whom he accused of being Communists or spies, ensconced in the military or the government or society at large. Artists were frequent targets.

And yes, he also assailed African-Americans, especially the more outspoken who, in the years before the Civil Rights Act, objected to the treatment of blacks. Two of the witnesses he called were black: Political activist Eslanda Robeson, the wife of actor and musician Paul Robeson, and poet Langston Hughes.

Its author is Carlyle Brown. The play runs through March 10, during the duration of Black History Month.

"On first read, I loved the language and the introduction to Langston Hughes," says Stage West executive producer Dana Schultes. "I'm a big American history buff, and the play opens up a window into his life and into a history of HUAC [the House Un-American Activities Committee] that I wasn't aware of. So, it was nice and informative in that way, and the poetry that's part of the show is just gorgeous. I also think that, now in our country, identity politics are extremely rife with tension. It's an appropriate time to call us back to another time in history where we were pointing fingers and at war with each other. It's a reminder of where we've been and that we shouldn't repeat history."

Directing the play is vickie washington, who prefers lowercase letters for her first and last name and who's no stranger to Dallas theatergoers. Playing Hughes is Washington's son, Djoré Nance. 

And for the director, it's all in the family. Her other son (Djoré's brother) is Terence Nance, the writer-director and star of the hit HBO show, Random Acts of Flyness.