Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy, Mar 9-17, 2019

March 9 to 17, 2019. Artword Theatre is bringing back its timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs and produced by Judith Sandiford. Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome plays The Interrogator.

Permission for the use of the poems has been granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, for the Langston Hughes Literary Estate.

LHvsJM_Learie_poem_dance_Harlem

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so.

On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.

Only 8 performances! Runs about 60 mins. All tickets $15.
*Sat March 9 at 7:30 pm, OPENING Special, stay for the Beg To Differ concert at 9 pm  (no extra charge) .
*Tuesday to Friday, March 12-15 at 7:30 pm,
*Three matinees at 3:00 pm Sun Mar 10, Sat Mar 16, Sun Mar 17 mat, final show.


*** Read Gary Smith’s review in The Hamilton Spectator, March 13, 2019:

Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy is a moving and probing drama

Howard Jerome as The Interrogator

“Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy,” playwright Ron Weihs’s probing drama, packs a lot of power into an hour. This short play, interspersed with elegant stage moves, as well as haunting poetry by the iconic Hughes, is a fusion of art forms that sits neatly on the Artword Artbar stage. The room is small. So is the stage. But the ideas are large.

It’s 1953 and we’re immersed in the aggressive rhetoric of a select American committee that hounded intellectuals and artists. The fiefdom of Joe McCarthy and a band of loutish interrogators, these folks ultimately became the genesis of playwright Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” with its comparison of witch hunts in Salem and the persecutions by the infamous McCarthy Committee in the ’50s.

Weihs’s play, based on Congressional records, presents some of the actual language used as McCarthy struggled to nail the elegant black poet Langston Hughes, suggesting his poems had a communist beat.

Witch hunters were behind every wall and tree in those days, seeking out communist sympathizers unfaithful to the U.S.A.’s increasingly tattered red, white and blue mantra that suggested liberty for all.

Weihs’s play goes beyond the documentation of Hughes’ interrogation, however. It suggests the times, depicted clearly and powerfully in the images of pain that set designer Judith Sandiford projects onto a stark white screen. We see hunger, joblessness, fear and desolation. And we see the segregation and denigration of black citizens, particularly in romantic old Dixie, where they were forced to sit at the back of buses, refrain from drinking from whites-only water fountains and barred from most hotels, dining rooms and movie theatres.

These images, along with the always elegant language of Hughes’s poetry, summon a vision of a world of haves and have-nots. That such a world could be defined simply by the colour of someone’s skin remains as ugly and reprehensible today as it was in the times of Hughes’s powerful poetry.

Fearing the face of communism was about to undermine American values, McCarthy frequently picked on artists and the intelligentsia.

As an important leader in the “Harlem Renaissance,” a movement that celebrated the writers, musicians and intellectual black artists who would shape the diversity of American culture, Hughes was a target. Playwrights such as James Baldwin, musicians such as Duke Ellington, and singers Billie Holiday and Mabel Mercer were faces of this movement, too. The times were changing. Lovely Lena Horne would no longer have her image cut out of prints of Hollywood musicals playing in the Deep South because she was black. Sammy Davis Jr. would soon become a huge star in films, television and Las Vegas.

In a sense this is the background for Weihs’s moving play. It is the kaleidoscope of change that was about to sweep across America. It’s not just about Langston Hughes and Joe McCarthy. It’s about so much more.

Weihs has wisely refused to make his play a virtual confrontation. He has interpolated movement from actor-dancer Learie McNicolls that suggests such yearning, such illuminating thought that Hughes’s poems sing physically as well as aurally.

You long for McNicolls to go on dancing to the throbbing sounds of “Lady Be Good,” “Sunny Side of the Street” and “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.”

The play moves gracefully from the probing questions of McCarthy, a gnarled presence with a rumbling rasp of a voice intoned by Howard Jerome, an actor of infinite colours. He makes McCarthy a hard man who finds dark and sinister meaning behind every sweetly constructed phrase of poetry.

McNicolls is a handsome presence with a voice as warm as honey. He makes the confrontations between art and intellect in Weihs’s self-directed play quiver with truth.

Quibbles? Hardly any. The transitions from poetry to dance might be more seamless, and the broad space between the actors to allow for visual projections could be tightened now and then.

Mostly, the play reminds me of the glory days of New York’s Greenwich Village, where poems were read to live jazz and the elegant dance steps of folks like Willy Blok Hansonat the Café Wha? created entertainment that was glorious, yet bizarre.

This one’s for people who like their theatre to be different.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 37 years. gsmith1@cogeco.ca

Scroogissimo, our seasonal treat, is back Dec 1-15, 2018

December 1 to 15, 2018. Artword Theatre’s delightful Christmas comedy Scroogissimo returns for a fourth time to Artword Artbar. Hamilton’s North End meets Charles Dickens in a wacky script by Ryan Sero and Charly Chiarelli, directed by Ronald Weihs – and the original cast!
Charly Chiarelli as Ebenezu Scroogie
Pamela Gardner as Christmas Past
Paula Grove as Christmas Present
Valeri Kay as Christmas Future, Mrs. Cratchit
Jon-Gordon Odegaard as Bob Cratchit
Jay Shand as Marley’s Ghost and nephew Fred
Musical support by Alex Tomowich on piano.

Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard) and Scroogie: (Charly Chiarelli)

A sell-out hit in 2013, 2014 and 2016, Scroogissimo features Charly as “Ebenezu Scroogie”, a Christmas-hating old Hamiltonian from Racalmuto, Sicily, who finds himself haunted by three ghosts of the Past, Present and Future.

Show Times and Prices: Wed to Sat at 8:00 pm, Sun matinées Dec 2 and Dec 9 at 3:00 pm. Tickets: Adults $25,  Child 14 and under $10.

Background:

Scroogissimo is performed by the Artword Ensemble, an acting company that has been working in Hamilton under Weihs’s direction since 2008. The company includes Charly Chiarelli, Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove, Valeri Kay, Jon-Gordon Odegaard, and Jeremy Shand, all experienced practitioners of the Artword Ensemble style. Musical support for Scroogissimo in the 2018 remount is provided by Alex Tomowich, an accomplished pianist currently in the Mohawk College Jazz Program. Previous musicians were Jennifer Lockman (2013) and Tim Nijenhuis (2014 and 2016). In 2016 we added the backdrop projections and the aerial rig for Christmas Past, and took the piano off the stage.

The original idea for Scroogissimo came from Charly in 2013, in a conversation with Weihs and Judith Sandiford, Artword’s producer and designer. Charly told them how he used to play his harmonica in an annual production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in Kingston. “I only had one line, but after sixteen years, I knew all the lines.”

Ron said to Charly, “Why not do our own version in Hamilton? A North End version.” (Hamilton’s North End, where Charly grew up, was largely inhabited by Sicilian immigrants.) Charly did some of Scrooge’s lines North-End style, and Ron and Judith were soon aching with laughter.

So Charly got to work. He “translated”, from the original Dickens story, all Scrooge’s speeches into North-End Sicilian English. He dictated them over the phone to Judith, who tried to figure out how to spell words like “umbaggo” (humbug). Meanwhile, Ron had casually suggested to Ryan Sero, that Ryan might write the script. Ryan replied, “Be careful what you wish for.” Ryan is well known in Hamilton for his over-the-top comedy productions, including the Fringe hit Romeo and Juliet: An Escapist Comedy.

Ryan took the “Scroogie” speeches, and the original Dickens story and put them through his own zany comedic mind. The result is great fun. There are the ghosts of course (Christmas Present is a pasta-loving lady named Natalia), the parties, the revelations, all with a dash of Marx Brothers, and a touch of the Dickens social criticism.

Ron and Judith have worked with Charly on all his one-man shows about Hamilton. Ron directed, and Judith designed, the first productions of Cu’Fu? and Mangiacake at Artword Theatre in Toronto – productions which were later filmed for Bravo Television. They also brought Charly’s third play in the Hamilton trilogy Sunamabeach to the stage in 2009. In 2017 Artword remounted Cu’Fu? and developed a new play called Charly’s Piano.


Our favourite review, from the first production in 2013: “Artword Theatre is cramming a whack of seasonal fun into their tiny package of a space. Mixing local Sicilian-Canadian storyteller Charly Chiarelli and “Charly” Dickens makes a Christmas-cracker exploding with musical and comedic goodies that will make an addition to your festive season you will never forget….” Robin Pittis for View Magazine.   (The show is even more fun, as we add new goodies with each remount.)


Gary Smith’s review of the 2018 production in The Hamilton Spectator, December 10, 2018:

Scroogie at Fezziwiggi’s party

Scroogissimo! is delightful and charming

It’s the best Scrooge I’ve seen all year.

With apologies to Charles Dickens, this Hamilton version of the transformation of a crusty old skinflint to a giving and caring benefactor of humanity, will make you believe in something more than ersatz holiday entertainment.

We’re in Hamilton, where Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard) and his family live at 487 Barton St. Cratchit scratches out a living in the office chambers of Ebenezer Scrooge a wily old Sicilian played of course by the irrepressible Charly Chiarelli.

As in Dickens, you’ll go with those three spirits of Christmas, Past, Present and Future (Pamela Gardner, Paula Grove and Valeri Kay) as they force the grumpy old miser to confront the waste of his life. For the purposes of Ryan Sero and Charly Chiarelli’s sometimes hilarious, always touching script, this Scrooge is known as Scroogie.

Marley’s Ghost (Jay Shand) and Scroogie

Dickens, of course, might well roll in his grave if he saw the antics these characters, based on his originals in “A Christmas Carol,” get up to. The thing is though, the story has been given a modern context, a Hamilton location and at least one character that resembles Harpo Marx without harming its heartfelt intent. It all works, you see, in reclaiming an old reprobate and in fostering the same message of kindness, love and generosity at Christmas Dickens, intended.

Charly Chiarelli gives his usual broad, somewhat off the wall performance he is famous for. He has an interesting capacity for not letting us know how much of the text he’s actually speaking and how much of the evening is supported with comic ad-libs and zingers. It doesn’t really matter because whatever he does it works and it would be difficult to imagine this “Scroogissimo!” without his exuberant presence.

The rest of this fine Artword Theatre cast is up to speed, providing ingratiating, charming and artfully comic performances that adhere to Dickens’ original notions, even if they are flying off in other, less Victorian directions.

Christmas Past (Pamela Gardiner) and Scroogie

And fly these character do. Especially Pamela Gardner’s frisky Christmas Past. She takes to the overhead silks in that Cirque de Soleil way and scares the bejeebers out of poor Scroogie before she even confronts him with all those pathetic moments from his past. She has a terrific presence on stage and highlights everything she does with a warm smile that would heat you up on a cold Hamilton night.

Valerie Kay is the horn-tooting Harpo Marx based Spirit of the Future. She shuffles her way along to a little bit of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” (let’s not call it dancing) and she helps rehabilitate the old miser Scrooge with a shake of her exotic gold wig and her relentless honking of a kid’s bicycle horn.

Scroogie and Christmas Present (Paula Grove)

Then there’s the wonderful Paula Grove. Singing a snatch of “Mambo Italiano” she insinuates herself on stage in a mulberry sparkle dress, with ample peeks at her bold cleavage. All decked out in golden Christmas balls, with a poinsettia firmly plopped in her mane of black hair, she’s the bold and brassy Natalia, The Spirit of Christmas Present. And what a present she is. Her turn is the highlight of a show filled with delirious highlights. Don’t miss her.

Jay Shand as Marley’s Ghost has a delightful laid-back quality about him and he fills the stage with a number of characters that give this “Scroogissimo!” a modern and quirky tweet.

Mrs. Cratchit (Valeri Kay) and Bob Cratchit (Jon-Gordon Odegaard)

Jon-Gordon Odegaard is a remarkable actor who brings such humanity to Bob Cratchit. Every time you see him in an Artword Theatre show he’s totally different. Now that’s a consummate actor.

Judith Sandiford’s projections and Ron Weihs’ direction of this neat little show are completely charming. Things are never forced and the innate warmth and sweetness of the piece never fights with the humour, they just coexist.

Major joy of the evening too, is the piano accompaniment of Alex Tomowich, a tall handsome pianist, who looks like he’s having as much fun as the actors on stage. We get snatches of “Theme from The Godfather,” “Over The Rainbow” and a host of Christmas songs and carols interpolated into the proceedings. Look to hear from this guy in the future because he is a real artist on those black and white keys.

“Scroogissimo!” doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a delightful evening of holiday entertainment. It works splendidly in the intimate space at the Artbar and you’d have to be a Scrooge yourself not to be captivated by its endearing charm.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years.

The Man in the Vault by Ronald Weihs, Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Man in the Vault (an Artword Theatre production). Written and directed by Ronald Weihs. Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford. Performed by Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell, Jason Thompson. 

A Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, is convinced he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB.

The Man in the Vault: Mariam Bekhet, Jordan Campbell,

The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth from the man in the vault. Based on true events in the 1960s that resonate with today’s headlines.

Part of the Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival. Running Time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 (Fringe Backer Button required)  hamiltonfringe.ca/tickets/
Show Times: Thurs July 19 @ 9pm, Fri July 20 @ 4:30pm, Sat July 21 @ 7pm, Sun July 22 @ 8pm, Tues, July 24 @ 9pm, Wed July 25 @ 7pm, Thurs July 26 @ 9pm, Fri July 27 @ 5pm, Sat July 28 @ 6pm  (Final show)

The Man in the Vault: Jason Thompson as James Angleton

The Man in the Vault, written and directed by Ronald Weihs, is a true story about James Angleton, the legendary head of CIA counterintelligence, who described the spy business as “a wilderness of mirrors”. In 1963, a Russian spy defects with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination. Angleton is convinced that he is a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. The defector is kept in a concrete vault in a secret location while interrogators try to extract the truth. Based on events that resonate today, when headlines are dominated by disinformation, collusion and Russian spycraft. 


PRESS RELEASE: For immediate release: July 6, 2018

Artword Theatre production: The Man in the Vault
written and directed by Ronald Weihs

Shortly after President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, a Russian KGB officer defected to the CIA. His name was Yuri Nosenko, and he said he knew the answer to the most incendiary question of the time: was Oswald a Russian agent? Nosenko’s answer: no, he wasn’t.

James Angleton, the CIA’s legendary head of counterintelligence, was convinced that Nosenko was a disinformation agent sent by the KGB. Angleton was busy tearing the CIA apart looking for a mole, acting on information from another defector, Anatoli Golitsyn. He believed that Nosenko had been sent to discredit Golitsyn, with the Kennedy information as bait.

Nosenko was locked a concrete vault in a secret location for over three years, while interrogators tried to break his story. The Man in the Vault imagines a last-ditch attempt by Angleton to determine the truth.

Playwright Ronald Weihs became fascinated with this story about the famous CIA spyhunter, James Angleton. He began a major research effort, filling a large bookcase as he found himself spiraling deeper and deeper into the dark world of spies, disinformation and the assassination of President Kennedy. As complexities multiplied and theories and conspiracies proliferated, he found himself lost in the world that Angleton called “a wilderness of mirrors”. After many false starts on a script, he put it all away in a drawer. Anyway, he thought, that Russia/US spy stuff is all outdated.

Now suddenly, with Trump in the White House, it’s all back again: intelligence, counterintelligence, disinformation. With the encouragement of his partner Judith Sandiford, Ron found all his old notes and fragments and stitched them into a script. Last April, some actor friends helped with a staged reading at Artword Artbar. To his surprise, it hit home with actors and audiences! So he sat down and started rewriting. He trimmed the cast from five to three, and focused and tightened the narrative. And every day he watches MSNBC, marvelling how, in James Angleton’s phrase, “the past telescopes into the present”.

Artword Theatre is the creative vehicle of Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford. They built and operated a major theatre at Bathurst and King in Torontofor seven years, until the landlord sold the building to a condo developer. The pair moved to Hamilton in 2007, and in 2009 they bought asports bar just off James Street North and turned it into Artword Artbar.Since coming to Hamilton, Artword Theatre has produced 16 original works, including four BYOV productions, all acclaimed by reviewers: Trumpet Romance with Stuart Laughton (“an extraordinary experience, not to be missed”); Transformation, by Learie McNicolls (“a masterpiece of poetic theatre”); Once I Lived in the Box, choreographed by Learie McNicolls (“may also be the best thing you see at the Fringe this year”); Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy (“should be touring the country”).


Review: WhatsOn Jul 24, 2018 by Lori Littleton, Special to The Hamilton Spectator

The Man in the Vault at Artword Artbar

Last Fringe, Ronald Weihs staged a play about Langston Hughes, an American poet and social activist who was called to testify before U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy. This year, he’s back with another historical exploration.

It’s the early 1960s and a Russian KGB officer has defected to the CIA. James Jesus Angleton — expertly played by Jason Thompson with poise and authority — is the legendary CIA head of counter-intelligence. He’s convinced Yuri Nosenko (Jordan Campbell) is lying and that Lee Harvey Oswald was a KGB officer.

Campbell’s Russian accent is spot on and he’s so convincing, we don’t doubt his denials for a second. Angleton sends Christine (the excellent Mariam Bekhet) to grill Nosenko toward the end of his three-year solitary stint in a concrete vault.

Five years ago, an audience might have watched this play and thought, well, isn’t that interesting? Today, it’s compelling. Weihs examines what is truth and what are facts and lies and we mentally halt when Angleton tells Christine that “it’s all part of a long-term plan — disinformation.”

With news stories abounding about Russian spies, indictments from Robert Mueller and Russian collusion and election meddling, you can’t help but wonder if history is repeating itself. Possibly in an effort to stay within a one-hour time frame, the action jumps quickly from a final interrogation scene to Nosenko appearing before a committee.

Rather than feel satisfied that the play’s wrapping up, you’ll want more.


The Man in the Vault review by Mark Fenton
Published July 23, 2018
https://www.raisethehammer.org/fringe/3066/the_man_in_the_vault

Perhaps it’s because I was born six days after the Kennedy Assassination, but I have a voracious appetite for novels, journalism, movies, and plays about JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald. (Frames from the Zapruder film are frequently up on my desktop background.)

This is a necessary disclosure, as it might make “The Man in the Vault” more compelling to me than to the average Fringe-goer. I knew there were communist conspiracy theories around Oswald’s time in Russia, but to my shame I knew nothing of James Jesus Angleton and Yuri Nosenko. So I’m like a boy on Christmas morning who’s just gotten some new action figures to augment his tableau.

James Jesus Angleton, chief of CIA Counterintelligence (there’s a delightful sidebar in the production about how he got his middle name) sends a young woman in the intelligence agency to interrogate Yuri Nosenko, a Soviet defector.

As the play opens, Yuri has been held in solitary confinement for almost a year. The young woman is to pose as a disinterested psychologist examining Nosenko’s mental state so that he’ll let his guard down. “By indirections find directions out.”

Nosenko had a low-level intelligence job in the Soviet Union when Oswald was in Russia. Angleton believes that Nosenko can give information proving the Kennedy Assassination was a Soviet plot, and that Oswald was their agent.

Dramatically, the situation provides an effective distancing between Angleton and Nosenko. They never meet during their cold war stalemate. For Nosenko, the inability to confront his adversary amplifies the menace of unknowable persecutors.

For an increasingly inebriated Angleton, his physical distance from Nosenko is its own prison as Angleton struggles in a web of good information, concealed information, and willfully false information.

This complexity is countered by the bare simplicity of the staging, to the point that the projected images of Washington, Oswald, and newspaper clippings about the assassination feel redundant and diminish the claustrophobia and isolation of working on a classified case. But this is a small criticism for a play that had me on the edge of my seat, like an unproduced Twilight Zone episode scripted by a young John Le Carré.


 

The Decision by David Dawson, Hamilton Fringe, July 19-28, 2018

July 19 to 28, 2018. Hamilton Fringe Festival. The Decision, a play by David Laing Dawson.
Amsterdam, May 16, 1940: Two young officers in the Royal Netherlands Army meet secretly. Their orders are to report to Gestapo Headquarters the next morning. 

Directed by Ronald Weihs. Performed by Jordan Campbell and Jason Thompson.

David Dawson’s powerful drama, The Decision, is set in Holland on May 16, 1940, after the Nazis have occupied The Netherlands.

Jason Thompson as Victor

Jordan Campbell as Pieter

Two young Dutch army officers meet to decide whether to report to Nazi headquarters as ordered, or to resist. It is a life-and-death decision, but how do you know which is which? David Dawson based his play on real people in his wife’s family, who faced that decision on that date. If we are faced with such a decision today, how will we choose?

Produced by Marlaise Dawson. Gallery on the Bay and Artword Theatre. Design and lighting by Judith Sandiford.

Tickets: $12 Adults, $5 Children. (Fringe Backer Button required), hamiltonfringe.ca/tickets/  Thurs July 19 @ 7 pm, Fri July 20 @ 7 pm, Sat July 21 @ 9 pm, Sun July 22 @ 6 pm, Tues July 24 @ 7 pm, Wed July 25 @ 5 pm, Thur July 26 @ 7 pm, Fri July 27 @ 7 pm, Sat July 28 @ 4 pm


Statement by David Laing Dawson, July 2018

For many years I knew of the story of Pieter, one day to become Marlaise’s father after the war, and Victor, one day to become Marlaise’s uncle, as two young men getting together one evening after the Dutch surrendered, to decide to report to German headquarters as ordered, or to refuse and resist. I imagined them meeting on a barge in an Amsterdam canal beneath an ominous sky in a now deathly quiet city, though in reality it was probably a kitchen in a small house near Nijmegan.

I know the outcome of that meeting, as do the history books and the thorough German records. And from the start that meeting begged to be turned into a play, re-imagined as a play. Imagine the issues they must have faced that night: small and personal, historical and geopolitical, the very nature and meaning of human behaviour.

However, that play would not written by me, for my life has never included any moment remotely like that. In fact, my generation of Canadians has lived within the longest period of peace and prosperity the world has ever known.

But then Donald Trump was elected. Our long period of peace and increasing inclusion, our widening of community to include the entire planet, began to falter.

And I sat down to write “The Decision”.


The Decision, review by Mark Fenton, published July 20, 2018, in Raise the Hammer.

The premise is a simple one. Two men, Pieter and Victor, living in Nazi-occupied Holland, are faced with a choice. They can report to the headquarters of the new regime and fight for Hitler, or they can join the resistance.

Pieter leans towards Hitler, and Victor towards the resistance. Pieter is an idealist who believes the leaders can’t be as bad as their worst rhetoric. His friend Victor is a cynic who expects the worst of leaders.

The play is fueled by the consumption of Dutch Beer, which reminds us a) that each man loves his country and would have been much happier if the Germans hadn’t shown up, and b) that alcohol blurs the line between polemic and emotion.

A dialectic drama in which two men in a room argue politics and ethics requires actors who can increase the tension slowly and steadily, and maintain our visual interest with nuanced physicality. Campbell and Thomson are excellent in demonstrating how important our choices are to immediate problems and, as we’ll learn, as an example to future generations.

I want to avoid spoilers, but I’ll just say there’s a mid-performance twist that’s stunning in its simplicity and effectiveness.

David Dawson based his play on the histories of his father-in-law and his father-in-law’s friend. The story is clearly personal for Dawson. But I don’t think he means us to condemn either man. I think he means us to admire the struggle of each man to live by his individual convictions.

Our collective attitude to Hitler’s Germany has been simplified by hindsight. The larger injustices, as the play makes emphatically clear, are still with us.


 

Charly’s Piano, Charly Chiarelli’s Christmas show, Dec 7-16, 2017

December 7 to 16, 2017. Charly’s Piano, Charly Chiarelli’s heartwarming Christmas show about how he organized a fundraiser to buy a piano for the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in 1972. An Artword Theatre Production, directed by Ronald Weihs.

Charly’s Piano is a new play by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs. It tells the true story about how Charly went to work as a psychiatric assistant at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto. The year was 1972, Toronto was full of music and hippies, and the Clarke was exploring new techniques in mental health. Charly, harmonica and all, fit right in. Pretty soon, he’s organizing a fundraiser to buy a piano for the patients to play. At first, no one signs up, but when the “Cat Lady” says she’ll sing a song, the idea takes off. Patients, doctors, nurses perform in a sell-out concert. But the story isn’t over. Charly and a patient known as “The Duchess” travel by public transit to a mansion on the outskirts of Toronto and buy the piano. And at Christmas, the piano is in the lounge, where Charly leads patients and staff (and audience) in Christmas songs and carols.
Script by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs, new songs by Charly Chiarelli on harmonica with Ronald Weihs on guitar. Produced by Judith Sandiford.

Reserve 905-543-8512 or  BUY_tix_buttonBook online.
Thurs, Fri & Sat, December 7, 8 & 9, at 8 pm, $20; Sun December 10 matinee at 3 pm, $20; Tues to Sat, December 12 to 16, at 8 pm, $20.

The Two-Show Deal: If you came out to Cu’Fu? and loved it, you are eligible for the two-show package discount. By phone only: 905-543-8512.

 


REVIEWS:

Review: Veteran raconteur hits right notes in Charly’s Piano

WhatsOn Dec 5 2017 by Gary Smith, Hamilton Spectator

Charly Chiarelli recalls the world of 1970s Toronto in “Charly’s Piano.”

Want to go back to the early ’70s? To a time when Ian and Sylvia, Bo Diddley and Ronnie Hawkins sang at the Concord and other hallowed Toronto halls?

Coffee houses and bars were still the domain of beatniks and hippies back then. Toronto was less sophisticated than it thinks it is today. Possibilities were endless.

In 1972, Charly Chiarelli, born in Racalmuto, Sicily, but raised in Hamilton’s gritty North End, found himself wandering the streets of what was once called Hogtown.

He found an attic abode next to a Primal Scream Clinic near Kensington Market. He found a job, too, at Toronto’s prestigious Clarke Institute of Psychiatry. Called an observer, he was paid to watch patients. Memories of many of these institutionalized folk permeate his new play “Charly’s Piano.”

Written by Chiarelli and Artword director Ron Weihs, the play is sometimes a rambling discourse through Charly’s world. It’s punctuated by haunting riffs on a harmonica pulled from Charly’s jacket pocket. That music is nicely supported by Weihs’ expert noodling on an old guitar.

Something of a local icon, Chiarelli bounds onto the tiny Artbar stage in jeans and a tweed jacket, an attractive scarf knotted round his neck. He has a mile-wide smile with tufts of white hair poking out from behind his head.

The voice is raspy. No matter, Chiarelli acts his songs as much as sings them. He falls into character, melting years away, easily becoming the boy he was back then.

His story is filled with detailed remembrances of patients from those Clarke days. There’s Beatrice, the Cat Lady. Her Siamese cats taught her to read minds. And there’s poor Adam, a casualty of the system who jumped in front of a subway train when out on a day pass. There’s also psychotic Philip, an expert on math, physics and chemistry.

Charly’s treasure-trove of remembrance leaps into high gear when he recounts how he decided to put on a concert in the Grand Rounds room of the Clarke and needed to buy a piano for the patients to enjoy. We hear how the doctors, staff and residents, after initial reluctance, come forward to make things happen.

One of the most affecting parts of Charly’s story is his recollection of going to some out-of-this-world mansion with a patient called The Duchess to buy the piano on a stormy winter night.

Judith Sandiford’s evocative projections fill the wall of the tiny stage with recollections of a Toronto long gone. These images amplify the words of “Charly’s Piano” beautifully, transporting us (if we are of a certain age) to a time we remember fondly.

Just as Charly’s songs hint at loss, these photos suggest the warmth of recognition, reminding us that change doesn’t erase the past from the present, but rather gives it context. This is because Sandiford’s projections, like Chiarelli and Weihs’ words, create a time tunnel to something gone by.

There are cavils: At two hours, including intermission, the show is just too long. It would sit better in a one-act format, running 75 to 90 minutes. No intermission. There are almost too many memories of patients here, too many anecdotes and the lead-up to the essential piano part of the story takes too long. The show, seen at a dress rehearsal, needs tightening, as well as editing.

In the end, it is a warm-hearted, tender story acted by a friendly raconteur, a storyteller who delivers memories with sweet recollection of time passed by, but never forgotten.

Gary Smith has written on theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator for more than 35 years.


“A Celebration of Spirit”
Review by Brian Morton of Charly’s Piano 
View Magazine, December 14 2017

They say it takes thirty years to become a master at something. I can confirm then, that Charly Chiarelli, the Sicilian born, North End Hamilton native, whose newest play, Charly’s Piano, opened this week at Artword Artbar, certainly has the skills to hold an audience spellbound with a yarn.

It takes a great deal of artistry; as a songwriter, an actor, a dancer, and a musician, in order to bring these poignant memories of working at Toronto’s Clarke Institute of Psychiatry circa 1972, as a patient observer, to life on stage. Chiarelli has long been compared to the late Spalding Gray, and his funny anecdotes are similar to humourist Mark Twain, in the essential humanity of his characters. I will suggest, that Canadian writer Stephen Leacock, is a more apt comparison, filtered through Charly’s experiences growing up in the rough and ready world of north end Hamilton, and the hippy ‘counter culture’ of the late 1960s.

Many years ago, while studying theatre, I learned, that the whole Canadian Theatre movement is a relatively new phenomenon, and that there was no long standing tradition of theatrical production in Canada, that does not originate from somewhere else. Early Canadian plays, were often indistinguishable from British or American plays of their era. That being said, Canada has a very long tradition of story tellers, guys at the local bar who could get everyone laughing by telling the story of what happened at work that day, and who could do a ‘dead on impression’ of the boss. We all have memories like this, but it takes someone like Chiarelli, with real performance skills as an actor and musician, to raise it to the level of high art.

Watching this production, felt as much like attending a folk music concert, as watching a play. Director Ron Weihs, does a double turn, providing live guitar accompaniment to the stories, tastefully underscoring emotional moments and playing along on a number of original songs firmly rooted in the folk revival of the 1970s. Of note to my ear, were “Something about Toronto” and “The Magic of Cats”.

It takes more then just performers, to make a theatre production work, and this show, is ably supported technically by Judith Sandiford, most tangibly in a wonderfully evocative slide show, that runs behind Chiarelli’s narratives. Mostly. they are black and white images of 1970s Toronto, including; Honest Ed’s discount store, street buskers, Kensington Market vendors, winter traffic, and iconic musicians, such as, Joni Mitchell, Ian and Sylvia, and Woody Gutherie, in the era of the Mariposa Folk festival. The images, provide a powerful commentary on the stage action, doing much to create the essential ‘nostalgia’ of the evening.

“There is no clear distinction, between sanity and insanity”, Charly learns in his first few months on the job. Doctor Rakoff, the director of the Clarke, takes him under his wing, and allows him to organize a Christmas Variety show called “Escape Hatch 11”, in order to raise the funds to purchase a piano for the patients to play.

This production is driven by Chiarelli’s recollections, of some very real people, and that gives the play much of its power. The stories are authentic, and conjure up some interesting individuals, such as, ‘Beatrice the Cat Lady’, and “The Duchess”, a wealthy matron who Charly brings with him when they travel to purchase the piano, that is at the heart of this story. “Charly you are made of pure spirit”, one character tells him.

And that is what I will take away, from me from watching this show. A celebration of spirit, of a time, now sadly gone. There is a certain “madness” in artistic creation, and ‘the blues’ and psychiatry, do indeed, have something in common. I urge you, to check out this wonderful production, in its final week of performances.
– Brian Morton

Charly Chiarelli‘s classic hit show Cu’Fu? Sept 28 to Oct 7, 2017

September 28 to October 7, 2017. Back one more time! Charly Chiarelli‘s classic hit show Cu’Fu? (So Who Did It?), Stories of a Sicilian Family, returns to Hamilton, at Artword Artbar. An Artword Theatre production written and performed by Charly Chiarelli, directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs.

Cu’Fu?, the show that made him famous, is Charly’s hilarious and touching tribute to his crazy Sicilian family in the North End of Hamilton. His father’s bewilderment at the automatic record changer, his mother’s uncanny ability to read faces, and the unexpected reaction of both when they discover Charly is smoking “Mario Lanza”, create a portrait that is both affectionate and achingly funny.
Artword Theatre developed this show with Charly back in 1995-96 and presented it five times in Toronto, to 2002, and two more times in Hamilton, in its home neighbourhood!
Show times: Opening Festitalia Special, Thurs Sept 28, at 8 pm; Fri & Sat Sept 29 & 30, at 8 pm; Sun Oct 1 matinee at 3 pm; Tues-Sat, Oct 3-7, at 8 pm. Tix $20.
+ Two-Show Package: Cu’Fu (Sept 28- Oct 7, 2017) PLUS our new show: Charly’s Piano by Charly Chiarelli (Dec 7-16, 2017).

Cu’Fu (the book) by Charly Chiarelli, Artword Press, 2017


And now, the book!
Cu’Fu? Stories of a Sicilian Family, by Calogero (Charly) Chiarelli, published by
Artword Press, 2017.
The full script plus photos from the family albums. In the back cover family photo, Charly is front row left.

Contact Ronald Weihs, editor, rweihs@artword.net about getting a copy.

Now available on Amazon.ca
https://www.amazon.ca/s?k=Cu%27fu&ref=nb_sb_noss


The Story of Artword and Charly and Cu’Fu? (1995 to 2017, so far)

The story of Cu’Fu? begins in 1995 in the upstairs studio version of Artword Theatre at 81 Portland St., Toronto. Charly Chiarelli was one of the storytellers at The Artword Festival of the Human Voice: How many ways to tell a story? (23 performers, 12 events in double-bills, May 24-June 10, 1995). Dan Yashinsky helped us organized the storytellers. Here is the original description: “Cu’Fu?, stories from a Sicilian family, by Calogero (Charly) Chiarelli. (Sun. May 28 at 2 pm, Sat. June 3 at 8 pm, and Sun. June 4 at 2 pm, 1995.) ‘Cu’Fu?’ is a Sicilian response to bad salami or the origin of the universe – and most everything in between. Through storytelling, singing and harmonica playing, Calogero Chiarelli unfolds his Sicilian-Canadian reality full of warmth, tragedy and humour.”

Charly Chiarelli poster image for Cu’Fu? 1996

We were delighted. We approached Charly afterwards with the idea that we could help him turn these anecdotes into a full play, and turn him from a storyteller into an actor. He took on the challenge. He and Ron got to work.

#1. April 11 to 28, 1996 world premiere Cu’Fu? (So who did it?) 
A Sicilian’s response to life’s perplexing moments. Written and performed by Calogero (Charly) Chiarelli. Directed by Ronald Weihs. Designed by Judith Sandiford.
Judith Sandiford remembers: “This first presentation was a big surprise for us. We had added the words ‘Stories of a Sicilian Family’ to the newspaper listings. And the phone started ringing. People were coming three and four times, bringing a bigger group each time. They were amazed and delighted that we had this very positive story about Sicilians was in such tiny theatre.” The run sold out.

Charly Chiarelli and photo of his father

#2. September 20 to December 15, 1996:
ARTWORD BRINGS BACK HIT SHOW  After a sell-out run in April 1996, and a very warm response from the Sicilian and Italian communities in Toronto, Artword Theatre remounted the show for an extended run beginning September 20 to December 15, 1996. The one-person show about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton, Ontario has developed a strong grass-roots following that has been filling the tiny 60-seat theatre since September.
The show, performed in English with some Sicilian dialogue, has a very strong appeal to first and second generation immigrants to Canada, particularly of Italian and Sicilian background.

On Saturday, November 9, a special one-night performance of Cu’Fu? is opening the new Ontario Workers Arts and Heritage Centre in Hamilton, a few blocks from where the play is set.

The author and performer, Calogero (Charly) Chiarelli, grew up in the industrial north end of Hamilton where, in the words of the show, “there are 10,000 Sicilians all from the same town of Racalmuto. And back in Racalmuto, there were only 8,000 left.”

Charly now lives in Kingston, where he works as a social worker. He commutes every weekend to Toronto to do the (1996) show. Charly is an expert blues and jazz harmonica player. His blues songs with Sicilian and English lyrics are a high point of the show.

Artword Theatre, now in its fourth season, is putting its full energy behind the show. “We want to take Cu’Fu?’ as far as it will go,” says Artistic Director Ronald Weihs. “Charly is a very talented writer and performer. And we think that Cu’Fu? has something very important to say about what it is to be Canadian. Right now, that’s the most critical issue we face in this country.”

1999: In the new Artword Theatre, next door at 75 Portland, just opened, in the 150-seat main theatre.

#3. November 10 to December 18, 1999:  Cu’Fu? Back by popular demand, on the mainstage in the new theatre at 75 Portland! The Artword hit written and performed by Charly (Calogero) Chiarelli, directed by Ronald Weihs, designed by Judith Sandiford.

#4. February 8 to March 4, 2001: Cu’Fu? The hit show that toured the country and played on BRAVO television. Hilarious and touching stories about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton. Written and performed by Charly (Calogero) Chiarelli. directed by Ronald Weihs. Back for a fourth Artword mainstage run,

In 2001, Artword Theatre also premiered Mangiacake! a new show by Charly Chiarelli, directed and dramaturged by Ronald Weihs, designed by Judith Sandiford (remounted in 2002). Charly goes back to Italy and finds out he isn’t as Sicilian as he thought. In fact he’s a Mangiacake! Both shows were were filmed at Artword Theatre for Bravo Television.

#5. October 27 to November 10, 2002: Cu’Fu? (So Who Did It?), Stories of a Sicilian Family, written and performed by Charly Chiarelli, directed by Ronald Weihs, designed by Judith Sandiford. Charly’s hit show, back for the fifth time at Artword by popular demand.


AND nine years later, Artword brings Cu’Fu? back to its home town, in our venue Artword Artbar, just two blocks from where Charly grew up!

#6. December 7 to 17, 2011. IN HAMILTON! Have a Cu’Fu Christmas with Charly Chiarelli. Calogero (Charly) Chiarelli is coming back home to Hamilton, with a Christmas cabaret version of his international theatrical hit Cu’Fu (So Who Did It?), about growing up Sicilian in Hamilton’s North End. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll love it.
At Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street.  Cu’Fu? 2011 at Artword Artbar

Directed by Ronald Weihs and produced by Judith Sandiford. In 2007, the duo moved from Toronto to Hamilton and in 2009 they opened Artword Artbar. Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford produced and directed the first productions of Cu’Fu? So Who Did It? in their Toronto theatre, where it was filmed for Bravo Television.
Charly has performed Cu’Fu across Canada, from Halifax to Vancouver, from his home town Hamilton to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories — and in Italy, in Italian. The Edmonton Journal called him “the Sicilian Spalding Gray, or the Hamilton Mark Twain”.

Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, Fringe 2017 July 20-29

July 20 to 29, 2017. Artword Theatre participates in the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Theatre Festival with a timely and sensitive piece of documentary theatre, Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy, written and directed by Ronald Weihs.
Dancer-choreographer-actor Learie Mc Nicolls plays the role of Langston Hughes and character actor Howard Jerome performs as The Interrogator.

Is poetry subversive? U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy thought so. On March 24, 1953, Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, was summoned before the Senate Committee on Investigations. Did his poems contain communist ideas? In reply, Langston Hughes tells about his personal encounters with racism in America. The script is based on the actual transcript of his testimony, interwoven with the controversial poems, and incorporating dance, music and powerful images of the era.
Running time: 60 minutes. Tickets: $10 + one-time Fringe button:
Showtimes: Thu July 20: 6:30pm, Fri July 21: 9:00pm, Sat July 22: 9:00pm, Sun July 23: 8:30pm, Tue July 25: 9:00pm, Wed July 26: 9:00pm, Thu July 27: 9:00pm, Fri July 28: 8:30pm, Sat July 29: 8:30pm

[The poems by Langston Hughes are used by permission granted by Harold Ober Associates Incorporated, as agents for the Estate of Langston Hughes.]

REVIEWS:


REVIEW: ‘LANGSTON HUGHES VS. JOE MCCARTHY’
at the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival

artsallydotcom.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/review-langston-hughes-vs-joe-mccarthy-at-the-2017-hamilton-fringe-festival/

BRIAN MORTON, Contributor, July 28, 2017

Ron Weihs’ play, ‘Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy,’ now gets a full production as part of the 2017 Hamilton Fringe Festival. This two man play digs deeply into a very dark period of American History that remains shameful to us today, although with the polarization and division in the United States in the era of Donald Trump, its relevancy is clear.

The script itself is based upon actual testimony given when Harlem poet Langston Hughes was called to testify before Congress during the Communist ‘witch hunts’ of the early 1950s.

Back then, anyone who had ties to socialism, communism or even just leftist sympathies were blacklisted, vilified and forced to recant their views. Many of the artists and writers who were called to testify, even some of those who attended and just used their constitutional right to plead according to the Fifth Amendment, were unable to find work in their fields afterwards; many committed suicide, moved abroad or even, worst of all, they named others in order to be exonerated. Uncooperative witnesses were imprisoned. Refusing to testify – to name names of others – created heroes such as the ‘Hollywood Ten’ which included Dalton Trumbo. We revere their courage to this day, as evidenced by the number of films, plays and books that remind us their story.

This is the era in which the play lives.

From the opening moments, tidying up his desk and organizing his thoughts for the session ahead, Howard Jerome as Senator Joe McCarthy drives this production with his articulate and persistent attacks. His voice has a wonderfully raspy quality to it, that got under your skin.

Called to testify is poet Langston Hughes (in this production played by the mercurial Learie McNicolls). He responds to McCarthy’s questioning by relating his experiences grown up in Missouri, and by sharing his poetry, he gives a basic lesson in creative writing and attempts to explain, correctly, that the narrative voice in a poem may not necessarily be the author’s own.

It is often hard to stage poetry. This production presents eighteen of Hughes poems as part of the story; they are presented as dance pieces, and slipped seamlessly into the dialogue of both actors. “A poem is not testimony” Hughes asserts, perhaps not, but it can convey truth and meaning.

We might wax nostalgic for a prosecutor who at least tries to establish actual facts in a legal case; in this our era of Trump’s 140 word ‘covfefe’ tweets, truth can be hard to find. But the agenda here is much the same, to silence those who do not subscribe to the politics of bigotry and hatred of the ‘other’.

An additional character is created in this production, by the use of very cleverly chosen period photographs. In the exact same way that carefully chosen music works to underscore a scene, the images presented behind the onstage action become a powerful commentary. They evoke the time, the place, and the people brilliantly.

A fine play, well staged, with a powerful message that is so important in our ‘here and now.’ What more could one ask for? A cool drink perhaps. This venue is licensed and you can enjoy a beer, or a glass of wine, while you watch.

‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ (Artword Theatre, Hamilton)
Writer/Director: Ronald Weihs, Cast: Learie McNicolls and Howard Jerome


‘Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy’ should be touring the country

Doreen Nicoll, July 30, 2017

http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/change-gonna-come/2017/07/langston-hughes-vs-joe-mccarthy-should-be-touring-country

There’s no doubt about it, history is cyclical. Those well versed in history see the proverbial writing on the wall. Unfortunately, those who choose to remain ignorant, or perhaps worse, those who believe they are untouchable, can set the world on a path that is well worn, all too familiar, and often dangerous.

July 29th, the curtain went down for the final time on the Hamilton Fringe production Langston Hughes vs. Joe McCarthy: Is Poetry Subversive? Set at the height of McCarthyism when, as director Ronald Weihs writes in his director’s statement, “There was a massive effort underway in the United State to communicate a crude vision of ‘The American Way,’ and to brand ideas ‘Un-American.’ People were taught to be frightened of their own thoughts, to repress them or keep them hidden.”

During the 1920’s and 30’s, Harlem became a beacon of hope for freedom of expression to African American scholars and artists. This newfound voice was demanding civil liberties and political rights. Hughes was an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance which gave birth to jazz poetry. It was this poetry that would make Hughes a person of interest.

On March 24, 1953 James Mercer Langston Hughes, African American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist was called before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. And so the play begins.

Republican Senator Everett Dirksen and attorney Roy Cohn originally interrogated Hughes, but Weihs successfully embodies the men in one domineering character. The interrogator, clearly Hughes’s intellectual inferior, tries unsuccessfully to get Hughes to admit his poems contain subversive political messages.

Hughes never denies his writing has political references, but maintains those references “would mean many things to different people.”

Instead, Hughes takes every opportunity to school his interrogator on the true meaning of free speech — a lesson the current U.S. administration desperately needs to hear.

Actor, singer, writer, director producer and activist, Howard Jerome was the embodiment of the hostile, manipulative interrogator berating Hughes throughout the hour long questioning. Learie McNicolls, dancer, choreographer and spoken word artist, elevated Hughes to the intellectual, artistic, and humanitarian stature he deserved.


“…a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.”

2017 HAMILTON FRINGE FESTIVAL MINI REVIEW FROM CENTRE STAGE
WITH LYLA MIKLOS ON 101.5 FM THE HAWK

This Fringe show was a real gem and a pleasant surprise. Writer/Director Ronald Weihs takes us back to 1953 when Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was summoned by infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy to speak to the Senate Committee on Investigations. Combining projected pictures from the era, jazz music, movement and two amazing actors Weihs transports his audience into both a frightening and inspiring time and place. A time and place that reminds us of the fragility of our democracies as we still so easily allow ideological demagogues to take away our collective powers.

What makes this production really sing is when Learie Mc Nicolls brings to life the words of Langston Hughes. More than once the audience would burst into spontaneous applause at the end of one his powerful recitations. Not only did his voice bounce off the walls, but his feet and body were bouncing and moving all over the stage. Mc Nicolls was utterly captivating to experience and witness in this fully realized performance. The counter point to his poignant energy was the brittle intensity that Howard Jerome brought to his role as the nefarious McCarthy.

Seeing how beautifully Weihs brought together his overall vision there was one oversight that kept bringing me out of the trance I was being put under. Neither Mc Nicolls nor Jerome look or sound anything like the real life people they portrayed on stage, but Mc Nicolls was magnificently dressed with trim, polish, spit and shine while Jerome had an ill-fitting suit, frumpy pants, grey beard, pony tail and running shoes on. I just wished that Jerome’s costume and overall look better expressed the evil, uptight, controlling, power hungry, repressed character he was portraying. He looked more like an eccentric hippy professor not the man who coined the term “McCarthyism”. Nevertheless a minor detail in what was a truly enchanting hour showcasing some of Hughes’ moving, political, and still frighteningly relevant poetry.

 


“top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure”

Jul 24, 2017, by Lori Littleton,  Hamilton Spectator

Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy
Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne St. — July 25-27 at 9 p.m., and July 28-29 at 8:30 p.m.

Writer/ director Ronald Weihs has assembled an acting powerhouse for this 60-minute drama. Dora Award-winner Learie McNicolls is Langston Hughes, renowned poet of the Harlem Renaissance, and Howard Jerome is Joe McCarthy, a U.S. Senator known for his pursuit of anyone affiliated with Communism in the 1950s. The play is based on actual transcripts of Hughes’ testimony before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in March 1953. But this isn’t a courtroom drama and there’s no thundering climax. Instead, the play features McCarthy asking Hughes questions about his poetry. Seated, Hughes answers but then rises to narrate a poem. A skilled dancer, McNicolls artfully adds to his delivery of these poems, which punctuate issues such as workers’ rights, racism, inequality and religion. Weihs also tackles more philosophical topics such as whether a writer’s views be separated from his work.

“Let America be America again,” Hughes urges. He also admits, “There has never been equality or freedom for me.”

Weihs also uses music and projects photographs of the actual court proceedings plus other images of the era on a screen behind Hughes’ courtroom desk to remind the audience of the societal tensions of the 1950s. Of course, looking at a sign that reads, “We want white tenants in our white community,” forces audience members to consider our current climate on racism, Islamophobia and xenophobia.

Despite top-notch actors and a unique, artful structure, this production’s hindered by its overly ambitious script, which, at times, seems more intent on raising issues than offering any attempts at resolution.


 

Artword Theatre: Charly’s Piano, May 17 & 18, 2017

Wednesday and Thursday, May 17-18, 2017. Artword Theatre presents Charly’s Piano, a new work-in-progress.
A young man looking for work in 1971, a psychiatric hospital, and a piano. Performed by Charly Chiarelli. Written by Charly Chiarelli and Ronald Weihs.

This is the fourth (and final) in a series of monthly theatre projects-in-progress, with Artistic Director Ronald Weihs.  May 17-18, 2017, at 8 pm, pwyc/$10.

The February edition (# 1) was Langston Hughes vs Joe McCarthy, a reading based on testimony from the interrogation in 1953 interspersed with some of his poems.
The March edition (#2) was Mind Wars: a theatre exploration about the 1960s, when politics became a struggle over reality and perception, with readings from actual testimony and interviews of the Yippies, Black Activists, the CIA, the FBI.
The April edition (#3) was The Man in the Vault by Ronald Weihs, a staged reading of a new script based on actual events. The play explores how a CIA counter-intelligence scandal in the 1960s telescopes into the present. What is the truth? How do you know if you have found it?

To find out more, call 905-543-8512 or email: rweihs@artword.net, artword@artword.net