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TNC brings Hughes, Hurston, Pirandello to life ~ One-acts shed light on African American History Mon

Theater for the New City Executive Director Crystal Field and the Xoregos Performing Company are presenting "Luigi and Langston," four one-act plays by famous and emerging playwrights all linked to African American History Month.

Billed as an evening of master playwrights and new playwrights, Luigi and Langston presents works by Langston Hughes and Luigi Pirandello (presented as an influence on him) as well as one inspired by the work of Zora Neale Hurston and one more new play.

The show, running Feb. 2-12 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., is directed by Shela Xoregos and stars Michele Cannon, Andrew R. Cooksey, Julian Garcia, Damian Joel, Kelly Kirkley, Demi Singleton and Victoria Wallace. The set is by Brianna Sealey with lighting by Clarence Taylor, costumes by Angelina Scantlebury and Marsh Shugart in charge of props. Collectively, the works shine a light on the African-American experience as seen through the eyes of great artists from the nation’s history and contemporary writers. While Hughes wrote many plays and was known as a dramatist in his day, he today is better remembered as a poet - and some of his poetry is presented here. But Hughes’ “Soul Gone Home” also is a reminder of his pivotal role as a playwright. An often funny, at times touching, one-act, it presents the story of a son coming back from the dead to talk with his mother. “The one I’m doing is so rare that you could say it’s never done,” Xoregos, who recently presented Harlem River: Songs of the Harlem River: Five Rare One Acts from the Harlem Renaissance, said. “It’s a comedy.” Xoregos said the play is at once a moment in history and contemporary. “It’s sardonic, bitter humor,” she added. “It’s about Harlem in the twenties or thirties. To me, it’s very now.” Although Hughes helped found theater groups such as the New York Suitcase Theater and Skyloft Players, his work today is rarely presented on stage. He collaborated with Zora Neale Hurston on Mule Bone, a project that itself had more drama behind the scenes than one might want. Hurston copyrighted the play in her name only, which ended the collaboration, Xoregos said. That marked a split in their relationship and caught this play in the middle like a rope in a tug of war. “When Langston Hughes found out about it, he was furious and quit,” Xoregos said.“They never finished the play.”

The two, however, were back on Broadway together in 1991 when Mule Bone made its way back to New York City theater. “Another writer finished it and they did on Broadway about 25 years ago way after they both died,” Xoregos said. She brings Hughes and Hurston together, in a sense, for this night of theater. Harlem Slang, based on Zora Neale Hurston’s Glossary of Harlem Slang, by Michele Cannon is filled with lively language. “Zora Neal Hurston wasn’t only a writer,” Xoregos said. “She was an anthropologist. She compiled a wonderful glossary of Harlem slang in the ’30s.” In Cannon’s play, rife with historic Harlem slang that Hurston collected, two zoot suiters, young men who wore what some might view as extreme fashions, try to get dinner from a girl they meet on the street. “They don’t have any money and she’s wise to them,” Xoregos said. “It’s quite a funny play."

Beyond alliteration, it might seem that Luigi Pirandello, an Italian playwright, has little to do with Langston Hughes or others in this night of one-acts. Not so, according to Xoregos, who said presenting their works side by shows influence the older playwright had on a younger Langston. “Pirandello was a terrific influence on playwrights of the 20th century. Pinter, Beckett, Ionesco, everybody,” she said. “Some people say he won the Nobel for all of those authors, because he influenced them so much.”Pirandello, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1934, lived from 1867 to 1936.

James Mercer Langston Hughes (his full name) lived from 1902 to 1967, dying at age 65 in New York City. “They were the same time, except Pirandello was much older than Langston Hughes,” Xoregos said. “I feel that Pirandello was a tremendous influence.”

In Pirandello’s The Man with the Flower in his Mouth, two strangers meet in all night café after one misses a train. Although Pirandello’s play is set in Italy in 1923, Xoregos has transplanted the play to New York City –with a traveler heading out to Long Island during the summer. “I updated it. They get into a conversation,” she said. “It’s so beautifully written. It’s very hard to encapsulate in a couple of sentences.” In Calico and Lennie, by Grace Cavalieri, we meet an African American orphan who runs away and hides in a quiltmaker’s house, while the authorities search for her. “She teaches the little girl how to make quilts,” Xoregos said. “She talks to her about the beautiful colors.” An entertaining play, at once a meditation on youth and age, race and identity, Calico and Lennie rounds out an evening that at once revives work of one well known writers and brings to the stage work by contemporary playwrights.

Langston and Luigi, Theater for the New City, Community Theater, 155 First Ave., 10003. Feb. 2-12, Thurs.,-Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m. $15 general admission and $10 seniors and students. Info. and Tickets 212-254-1109.

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