“The Black Clown”: a 1931 poem with a 2018 message


Maggie Hall

The cast of “The Black Clown,” which is playing at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Sept. 23, 2018.

Sophie Pratt, Arlington Catholic

“You laugh because I’m poor and black and funny.”

This is the powerful opening line of the Langston Hughes poem entitled “The Black Clown,” and also the first line the audience hears in the new American Repertory Theater production of the same name. “The Black Clown” at A.R.T. consists of a diverse cast that uses the narrative of Hughes poem as its script, as well as new music and lyrics written for the show, taking the audience on a journey through the struggles faced by the black community, from slavery to modern day.

Davóne Tines leads the cast as “the black clown,” narrating the story and breaking the fourth wall, with a performance that is reminiscent of a ring leader in a circus. Tines’s bass-baritone voice is breathtaking, but some of the most powerful moments within the show are when he is completely silent, looking directly into the audience unmoved.

The ensemble of this show brings vibrancy and excitement through their dancing, and all around commitment to the story, being able to transform from an upbeat, lively number, to one more serious and dark.

Chanel DaSilva’s choreography performed by the cast plays a huge role in the show, by adding movement that resembles a ventriloquist dummy, highlighting an underlying theme of the restraints people of color are faced with. Not only that, but a stunning solo movement piece during the song “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” brings raw emotion, not only from the cast, but also the audience, to an already emotional sequence.

The cast, choreography, movement, and songs highlighted the metaphors created within the poem, as well as new ones, relating to the overall theme of the piece.

The minimalistic set design and interesting costume choices for the cast create the overall atmosphere of the show. The musical uses screens and silhouettes during a portion of the show that transports the audience back to the time of slavery. Shadows of the actors performing what looks like field work and other images are portrayed to the audience through the separation of the screen, implying that the barrier is the barrier created by oppression. The screens are then pushed back during a sequence that documents the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, creating the metaphor for the illusion of freedom, with the ever-looming walls of oppression and racism standing in the background.

In a powerful conclusion, the screens are torn away by the cast in a moment of joy and freedom. The minimal set allows for a stripping down, drawing all of the attention to the cast and the story, making every set piece purposeful and carry more than one meaning to the story.

In addition to the set, the costume design creates clear transitions in the show, with the cast wearing all black outfits to later colorful outfits of the same style.

“The Black Clown”, like the poem, carries powerful messages and deep meanings within it, showing the struggles faced by people of color through the years. The show is a must see, presenting its audiences with not only the past, but the modern-day struggles and discrimination still faced by people of color.

The show ends like the poem, in a powerful conclusion that symbolizes a regaining of freedom with the simple words: “I’m a man!”

(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–

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Navigate Left
  • Idina Menzel is playing Bea in the world-premiere run of WILD: A Musical Becoming at American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “WILD: A Musical Becoming” has a lot of love to share with audience, environment

  • A major award becomes a showstopper in A Christmas Story: The Musical, which is playing at the Boch Center Wang Theatre through Dec. 19, 2021.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “A Christmas Story: The Musical” is a gift for the whole family

  • All of the movies favorite moments are brought to life  during A Christmas Story: The Musical at the Wang Theatre, which is playing Boston through Dec. 19, 2021.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “A Christmas Story: The Musical” makes beloved movie even better on stage

  • CityWalk at Universal Studios Hollywood.

    Arts and Entertainment

    Universal Studios Hollywood: Rides, reviews, and recommendations

  • Together, Natalia Panzarella (left) and Ruby Carr are Bahari.

    Arts and Entertainment

    Take a dive Into Bahari

  • The Curie Society, created by Heather Einhorn and Adam Staffaroni, follows young female scientists in their mission to protect the world. The pair set out to create a story that would provide representation for women in STEM. Part of it was also, from a storytelling perspective, giving ourselves the biggest challenge we could, Staffaroni said.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “The Curie Society” empowers with a new generation of heroic characters

  • Dave Juskow (left) and Elon Altman, hosts of the Billy Joel A to Z podcast.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “Billy Joel A to Z”: Dive into the musical alphabet with Dave Juskow and Elon Altman 

  • ‘The Green Knight’ combines fantasy with horror

    Arts and Entertainment

    ‘The Green Knight’ combines fantasy with horror

  • Ruby Carr (left) and Natalia Panzarella came together to form Bahari in 2016. The two have since released multiple hit tracks and continue to write music together as best friends and fellow musicians.

    Arts and Entertainment

    The story of Bahari: Its origins and the journey ahead

  • Still from Ceux de chez nous (Those of our land), a 1915 film by French actor Sacha Guitry. The film shows Monet painting in his gardens in France, and plays at the entrance to Monet and Boston: Legacy Illuminated at Bostons Museum of Fine Arts.

    Arts and Entertainment

    “Monet and Boston: Legacy Illuminated” is a sight for sore eyes

Navigate Right
Activate Search
“The Black Clown”: a 1931 poem with a 2018 message

Comments (0)

All Headliners in Education Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published.