Selected plays, MUSIC THEATER, PERFORMANCE WORKS
- Song of Sad Young Men
- Geneva Cottrell, Waiting for the Dog to Die
- Smoke, Lilies and Jade
- Song of Sad Young Men
- Chapter & Verse
- Pork Dream in the American House of Image
- Not the Flesh of Others
- Singing In the Womb of Angels
- Better Dayz Jones (Harlem Stage)
- "Stranger On Earth" (Harlem Stage)
- The (No) Black Male Show
- Asphalt (directed by Talvin Wilkes)
- Etudes for the Sleep of Other Sleepers (directed by Laurie Carlos)
- Steel Hammer (co-written by Will Power, Kia Corthran and Regina Taylor for the SITI company, directed by Anne Bogart).
- The Exalted (directed by Anne Bogart)
- NPR Presents WATER ± (co-written by Arthur Yorinks, directed by Kenny Leon)
SELECTED THEATER PRESs
"Classical allusions and spirited dialogue are front and center in Carl Hancock Rux's challenging new play "Talk," presented by the Foundry Theater. The deceptively simple title belies the richness and complexity at the heart of this fascinating work. Rux creates vibrant characters, each with his or her own distinct personality and failings, brought to vivid life by a terrific ensemble cast under the direction of Marion McClinton. Talk is about a young scholar (Anthony Mackie) who brings together five panelists to discuss the life and work of Archer Aymes, a controversial African-American artist of Rux's invention. It seems that Aymes made a splash with the 1959 publication of his only novel, Mother and Son, and its subsequent adaptation as an experimental film; later, he led a protest at the Museum of Antiquities in New York City during which several valuable artworks were destroyed and an unidentified woman was killed. Aymes was arrested on second-degree manslaughter charges and reportedly committed suicide while incarcerated. "I have been told that most of what I think I know is incorrect," says the scholar and panel moderator. It soon becomes clear that each panelist has his or her own agenda and emotional investment in Aymes's work. Ion (James Himelsbach) has just completed writing the first biography of the artist; Phaedo (Maria Tucci) was Aymes's lover and also starred in the film version of his novel; Meno (John Seitz) feels that Aymes wasted his potential; the musician Crito (Reg E. Cathey) launched his career with an album based on his last encounter with Aymes. But it's the performance artist Apollodorus (Karen Kandel) who was with Aymes at the fateful museum riot, and so she is the person who may hold the clues to the identity of the woman who died and the reason that Aymes killed himself. All five panelists have secrets to be slowly revealed, and their often conflicting views on Aymes and his work drive the narrative action. Talk contains many memorable moments and fine character work from the actors. Meno is at first something of a clown, with his ridiculous toupee and cartoonish facial expressions; Seitz plays the comic potential of his buffoonery and racism but also endows him with a certain dignity and authority. Kandel's regal bearing as Appolodorus, and her total commitment to individual words and actions, grounds this most mysterious of Rux's characters. She opens the play in a dreamlike sequence and plays an integral part in the equally surreal climactic scene. The names of the characters are drawn from Plato's Socratic dialogues. Socrates debated with Ion on human creativity and with Meno on ethics; Phaedo, Crito, and Apollodorus were students of Socrates, all present when the philosopher was executed for heresy and corrupting the minds of the young. Rux also includes an extended allusion to Euripides' The Bacchae, focusing on the section in which Agave beheads her son, Pentheus. This use of philosophy and mythology is an ironic counterpoint to Aymes' attempts to smash the great works of the past, starting with an ancient Greek vase. As its title indicates, Talk is verbally dense; in fact, the characters sometimes speak simultaneously. They argue back and forth in rapid-fire dialogue that is difficult to keep up with, dropping the names of cultural and historical figures like filmmaker Maya Deren, beat poet Jack Kerouac, and surrealist André Breton. The cacophony of words has a rhythmic quality that at times approaches poetry, and McClinton deserves special credit for finding the dramatic possibilities within these heady discussions. Tim Schellenbaum's excellent sound design underscores a good deal of the play, varying between low, guttural noises and more instrumental melodies. The rest of the design team also make significant contributions. James Noone's breathtakingly beautiful set makes good use of the vaulted ceiling of the Public Theater's LuEsther Hall: marble staircases and Greek sculptures and vases give the set a classical look that is complemented by James Vermeulen's rich, atmospheric lighting. Talk raises provocative questions on the nature of art, the construction of identity, and the weight of history. It is not for those who seek an evening of light entertainment; rather, this work demands that its audience think, and it avoids any kind of simplistic resolution. The ending does not clear up all of the play's mysteries, but the emotional climax is both exciting and, I daresay, cathartic.
New York Times
Carl Hancock Rux's dazzling new play ''Talk'' takes us back to the golden age when the panel was the best theater of ideas around. There's an intellectual riot going on in New York, and we're part of it. History matters. Art matters. High ideals and monstrous ambitions are at stake. So is the nature of truth. (Whose truth?) We laugh at the in-jokes and pick up the dropped names (Kerouac, Vidal, Maya Deren, Godard, Wayne Shorter, John Lee Hooker). We switch sides, play games of deference and one-upmanship with each panelist. For them, it's a fight to the social or psychic death. For us, it's suspense and excitement.The occasion is this: a lost writer of the 1950's (fictional) has been found. He was Archer Aymes, he wrote one novel and he was as good as, maybe better than, Kerouac, Ellison and the other big players. He was tormented by fame and by the struggle between art and politics. He turned his novel, ''Mother and Son,'' into an avant-garde film, led a demonstration at a museum and, when it turned violent, went to jail and died there, probably a suicide. His reputation languished until the eager young Moderator (played by Anthony Mackie) found his novel in dusty basement archives. Many artists today feel the same despair the moderator expresses at the play's beginning, speaking of Aymes and of himself. ''Suppose you had been told . . . that you were at your beginning . . . that your beginning was the relevant marker of time, and you believed there had been many wonderful things -- beginnings -- before you -- magnificent inventions -- the evidence all around you, in the magnitude of great city ruins and the booty of lost treasures and the fragments of recorded genius, and all of this was waiting for you . . . an inheritance to bring into the room of your beginnings -- and then, someone told you your inheritance had lost its value. The last inventor's idea was already irrelevant before he had fully realized it. The design of it was predicated upon invention in an era of demolition. And you -- a generation removed from the end of all things -- have nothing to inherit except useless tools manufactured for the outdated machines. You are not at the beginning . . . you've arrived at the ending.''All of the panelists were part of Aymes's life. Now they are a jumble of vanity, achievement and need deeply felt, characters who are also hilarious types. Ion (James Himelsbach) is the lofty, white-haired critic who hopes his biography of Aymes will make him famous. The actress and filmmaker Phaedo (Maria Tucci) is a tart blend of diva and pedagogue. Meno (John Seitz) is the sly, jaded, talk show host. And Crito (Reg E. Cathey) is a hipster and jazz musician. The final guest -- uninvited -- is Apollodoros (Karen Kandel). She is a performance artist who plays various parts: a Lower East Side barfly; the mother Aymes lost and mourned; the provocateur who incites dissent among the panelists; and the guide to the evening's underworld (if you think of Greece) and inner world (if you think of Freud). Memories clash, egos strut and fret, alliances are made and unmade. Each panelist gets to speak alone and, at that moment, each becomes possessed In a luminous trance, Phaedo narrates the film that she and her lover Aymes made as its images drift and flicker across her body. Crito's words drive him to a place where language gives way to harsh, percussive sounds. Meno's anecdotes become feverish and lacerating, while Ion turns into a gospel-driven Beat poet. The actors are perfect, and the director, Marion McClinton, lets all of it emerge with clarity and gusto. The panel is set in a mythic Museum of Antiquities, built by one Sir Thomas Victor, where he conceived a child by a young black maid. The maid left the child a few years later and the child grew up to be Archer Aymes. We are in the museum of psychic as well as historical antiquities. And here I must stop and praise the uncannily beautiful set of James Noone, along with the lights (James L. Vermeulen), the video (Marilys Ernst), the sound (Tim Schellenbaum) and the costumes (Toni-Leslie James). They have turned the small LuEsther Hall at the Joseph Papp Public Theater into a world, with a backdrop of blue sky that can take on the color of red dust or of night. Ancient statues and vases lie about. And there are words, the words of artists and philosophers, across the floor and up the steps of the theater. ''Talk'' is a production of the Foundry Theater, whose best known works -- ''Gertrude and Alice,'' ''And God Created Great Whales'' and ''Lipstick Traces'' -- challenge the mind and stimulate the senses.In three vehement hours, ''Talk'' roams through the 1950's and 60's: the cold war, Abstract Expressionism, jazz, New Wave films, the civil rights movement, rebel intellectuals, Vietnam, and the media -- as it converts all of this into marketable or unmarketable art and history. We argue, too, in our heads about aesthetics, the meaning of race and of civilization when its discontents become brutal punishments. What are the possibilities for transformation? Mr. Rux has given ''Talk'' an elaborate classical frame. The characters' names are taken from Platonic dialogues, while Archer is the young ''warrior against tradition'' found on a Greek vase in the museum.Mr. Rux's ideas have the urgency and passion of actions. He draws on satire, rhetoric, naturalism (the kind, Strindberg said, that ''seeks out the points where great battles take place''), and poetry. ''Talk'' gave me one of the best evenings, intellectually and emotionally, I have had this season."
"Watching Carl Hancock Rux's multimedia "Mycenaean," which came and went Thursday and Friday night in a promising premiere engagement at the National Geographic Society's Grosvenor Auditorium, was like being submerged in a dense otherworldly swirl. It was definitely apocalyptic, definitely dreamy and deliberately indefinite in just about every other way. In an hour-long piece that managed to be psychedelic yet not the least bit trippy (it was way too sober-minded for that), "Mycenaean" surged into a nether region of dreams and wakefulness, past and future, finding a kind of timeless warlike hell. It's hard not to think in Rux's rhythms when you emerge from the show; "Mycenaean" is largely rhythm, powered by the amorphous, intriguing vibe of Rux's pulsing music and poetry, augmented by choreographed movement and an endless stream of video imagery. There's a story in there somewhere about the motion of history, but it develops slowly and never quite gets all the way out of the pea soup of mood. "Mycenaean" is a brooding philosophical landscape. Rux is a man of many disciplines; he's cut a few CDs, written an Obie-winning play ("Talk"), published some poetry and a novel ("Asphalt," part of which is the basis of "Mycenaean") and recently turned out a rangy, well-reported piece on black theater for American Theatre magazine. In "Mycenaean," Rux acts, directs, writes and, with Jaco van Schalkwyk, created the music and sound design. Yet the piece feels very much like a team effort. Rux, whose speaking voice has the rumbling sweetness of Barry White's, manages to come off as just one of the ensemble, a smallish Everyman in rumpled black and white, gliding around the stage in ritualized movement devised by Christalyn Wright (one of Rux's four co-stars). Even van Schalkwyk, whose vaporous end-of-civilization video installation fills a large screen behind the performers, is a noteworthy presence, a technical wizard fiddling with knobs as he crouches over a vast electronics console on one side of the stage. (He eventually breaks into semi-spiritual, semi-mechanical choreography that reminds one of David Byrne in his Talking Heads days.) What's happening has to do with cultural decay -- the Mycenaean fall intersecting with a modern decline. Rux plays a returning soldier and DJ, but even saying that much, in that way, makes the show sound far more literal than it is. Rux gives you mere clues about who and where, then gets surprising mileage from jazz/R&B grooves and loaded Beat poetry phrases that, in a very eccentric way, move things forward. "He was coming from, and I was walking toward," goes one of Rux's haunted refrains, and a strange empathy wells up around the chanted sentence "The dead are not absent." War in Iraq? Race in America? Rux touches the buttons, or at least encourages the audience to free-associate within his liquid framework. But nothing is put forward with such irrepressible clarity or vigor that you feel Rux is trying to give you a single urgent idea to take home; it's a show that dwells far more in the funk of question than in the force of answer. As one of the characters declares, it's less a matter of sticking with reality than a case of "living in the poem."Carl Hancock Rux's poetic rhythms guide the audience through the surreal "Mycenaean."
STRANGER ON EARTH
New York Theater Review
"Carl Hancock Rux’s new piece Stranger on Earth is inherently theatrical and refreshingly minimal in its presentation. What is described as an “imagined meeting” between the beautifully violent literary genius James Baldwin and the passionately troubled jazz singer Dinah Washington is more a riff on the two artists; how the immediacy of their work holds just as true in 2015 as in 1963, the year Rux has focused his eye on in his examination of the two iconoclasts.The audience enters the warm Harlem Stage space to the sound of acoustic jazz as interpreted by pianist Ted Cruz and bassist Mimi Jones. Vocalist Marcelle Davies Lashley sits at a makeshift dressing room table brushing out a wig and applying make up. Behind her is a dressing rack adorned with various pieces one assumes she will don at some point as she channels Dinah Washington. Across the stage are placed various microphone and music stands as well as a lit chandelier hinting at the essence of a Harlem jazz club where the two may have met. A video projection casts images of vintage Harlem throughout. As the house lights dim, a crew member walks across the stage placing various prop items- a decanter, glasses, an ash tray, etc. She rattles off the names of Harlem landmarks and it is clear that we are in a space that is not meant for literal interpretations. The effect is liberating. The audience is freed from the confines of the forced artifice that is created when a piece attempts to transport its viewers to a specific time and place- grasping for a verisimilitude that is difficult to fully achieve. In that vein, Lashley and Rux never strive for total transformation into Washington or Baldwin. They conjure the spirits of the two, allowing their essences to inform their own individuality as performers. Rux declares that he is going to perform Baldwin rather than “be” Baldwin and we witness Lashley changing from her personal clothes into the costume of Dinah Washington. The same is true of the approach to the text and material. Each performer handles the work of their subjects with their own voice before settling in to the words and songs that made Washington and Baldwin famous. The effect is almost trancelike. Baldwin was philosopher of race, sexuality, America, and human nature. His ideas are profound and visceral. His commentary on race in the US is unflinching and unapologetic. There is rage and yet it is grounded in the idea that love is the only thing that really matters. That’s what makes his ideas on the struggle of defining one’s identity in an oppressive state so universal. Rux adds his own reflections on Baldwin to the mix as well as the effect his work has had on his own life. Baldwin’s words, primarily taken from Notes of a Native Son and The Fire Next Time, are what give weight to the piece until Marcelle Davies Lashley commands the space with the spirit of Dinah Washington. Rux comments that Baldwin believed music to be the one medium to truly capture the African American experience. And Lashley is luminous. Her performance is a revelation of self as influenced by one of the greats. The communion that happens between her signing and Rux’s rich baritone is captivating. The dialogue between the two reaches a head as Lashley sings “Weep for Me” and Rux echoes with his own cries of “I can’t breathe,” bringing home the universal timeliness of Baldwin’s work, as if there was ever a question."
SMOKE, LILIES & JADE
It's the 1920s, and Richard Bruce Nugent is the toast of the Harlem salon scene. While his life outlasted those of his peers, Nugent's art faded into near obscurity. Rux poetically fuses the life and work of this complex and dynamic man living in a complex and dynamic era . In this remarkable work of historical recovery, Rux explores the messy contradictions of African American life at the beginning of the 20th century, especially as it relates to the talented tenth of African American intellectuals, artists and literary figures who defined the era known as the Harlem Renaissance. The duality in nature has another side to every event. The discouragement of the south blossomed with encouragement in the north. The discouragement of the south allowed a new civilization for encouragement in the north. The ashes of Rosewood and Greenwood turned to the budding of new birth from the dust of Harlem. The duality of nature transplanted its roots in Harlem for African-Americans in reaching new heights and achieving exponential growth in diverse directions across the landscape of America. Great leaders have come and gone, yet greater ones will arrive in the future. Behind each dark cloud a silver lining still exists, and a rising star awaits the new dawn. The Harlem Renaissance was the internal spring for African-Americans branching out into the world on their own volition. The renaissance opened a new dimension for African-Americans and brought about the realization of “I can do it, and do it with dignity, grace, and style.” The flowering of new visionary insights, the concept of prominent inner consciousness, and upliftment of the spirit was a new birth to African-Americans in this era. The coming together of such a diverse body of artistic talents, tremendous works of arts, and the interconnected collaboration on many fronts regarding diverse subject matters, coupled with the ability to demonstrate their gift and talent allowed African-Americans make accomplishments that were only dreams. The renaissance allowed for the flowering of a new consciousness, the emergence of great writers, masterful musicians, the celebration of one’s cultural roots, and the development of self-confidence and consciousness. It is without a doubt that the Harlem Renaissance was like an eternal spring of inspiration in the soul of African-Americans. That spring has provided nourishment and inner drive for sustainment into the eras beyond. That spring has fertilized the earth and has allowed the population of African-Americans to move into new and diverse dimensions regarding their self-worth, marvelous accomplishments, and diverse cultural successes. That spring of life in African-Americans which move them from slavery to freedom, is still watering the garden for future exponential growth economically, politically, philosophically, psychologically, and sociologically in directions beyond our human comprehension. Is that spring in your soul or not, and furthermore in which direction will you progress as African-Americans make the quantum leap forward? Segregated Harlem's jazz era is moving at lightning speed toward race riots and World war, just a few of the events that would change its landscape from glimmer to gloom. Rux, delineates sexuality as a counterpart to the idiosyncrasies of cultural change, raising complicated questions about racial self-identity. At the center of the story is Alex (based on Richard Brice Nugent, the first notably open gay African American writer of the Harlem Renaissance); his relationship to his friends, both real and imaginary (Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, Carl Van Vechten, , his handsome Latin male lover "Beauty", the naive Halrem flapper named "Melva" who Alex engages as his "beard, and "the Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, to name a few). We also encounter encounter Charlotte Osgood Mason, an imperious anti-Semite and collector of African art, who demanded that her Harlem protégés call her “Godmother.” Rux urges us to take these interracial and intersexual characters seriously and to use their sometimes overwrought, even outrageous, expressions of cross-racial solidarity as a way to understand a broader set of questions about racial identity.
Los Angeles Times Review
Books chronicling the commonplace, such as the pencil or salt, have become a fashionable means for finding in the everyday clues to some of the grander developments in society. Meanwhile, microhistorians turn to such occurrences as a massacre of 20 artisans in a 16th-century French village to illuminate the grander sweep of history. For physicists, the smallest particles hold the greatest secrets of the workings of the universe."Steel Hammer," an extraordinarily potent collaboration between composer Julia Wolfe and director Anne Bogart given its West Coast premiere by UCLA's Center for the Art of Performance at Royce Hall on Friday night, might be taken as a music theater equivalent of this phenomenon. It concentrates on the folk song "John Henry" as a vehicle for examining large contemporary social issues: the African American experience, American labor history, our contemporary obsession with work and the forgetfulness of history. Although all of these are very big deals, the most telling one is the last. Art has the permission to go where scientists, historians, cultural commentators and journalists cannot. Wolfe and Bogart don't seek direct cause and effect. They accept the premise of unknowable as the basis for understanding. The legend of John Henry is myth based on real conditions and mainly transmitted through folk song. Perhaps there was an African American steel driver, unjustly imprisoned, who raced against a steam-powered hammer and won. Perhaps he loved Polly Ann — or Moly Ann or Julie Ann or Sary Ann or Mary Magdalena, as portrayed in different tellings of legend. He was said to be short; he was said to be tall. He was a cotton picker; he was a convict. He wielded a 9-pound hammer, a 20-pound hammer, two 20-pound hammers. We know John Henry mainly from the songs. The most familiar are probably the versions sung by Pete Seeger, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen. There have been through the decades many, many more. Each has a different spin, not only with a different John Henry but also a different use for John Henry.What makes "Steel Hammer" so important, other than that it is spectacularly inventive and original music theater, is that Wolfe and Bogart recognize a composite John Henry. They know you cannot pin him down any more than quantum physicists can pin down the location of an electron. But the difference is that there are no equations to be discovered about probabilities about the time and location of John Henry. It is for that very reason that John Henry matters. The project began with Wolfe's 2009 "Steel Hammer," a cycle of eight songs written for the raucous Bang on a Can All-Stars. Through the combination of forceful, driving instrumental music, heavy on the metal, and three singers of sublime purity (Emily Eagen, Katie Geissinger and Molly Quinn at UCLA), Wolfe (a founding composer of Bang on a Can) hammered in a social message while at the same time realizing that nothing is real. The text of her first song — "Some say he's from" — is a fragment that sets the tone of the 70-minute score. But compelling as her music is, it begs for embellishment. Bogart's solution was to create a kaleidoscopic theater with her SITI Company. The songs are framed around four short plays by Kia Corthron, Will Power, Carl Hancock Rux and Regina Taylor that examine John Henry from a variety of angles that relate to the present African American experience. "I'm just a man," John Henry says at one point, "and you know how the story goes.""We all walked the road together," the playwrights seem to say collectively. That there is a collective familiarity, though, doesn't translate to a collective practice or understanding. And so John Henry becomes a torn, driven figure, a superman and an ordinary man, a man who takes control but who is also powerless. A warden says to John Henry that he has suffered injustice but that no individual can change the system. Yet it is for the very lack of specificity, the questions that have no answers, that allows his legend to inspire. The six SITI performers, especially Eric Berryman as John Henry, are exceptional. They act, dance, tirelessly race around the stage and confront one another in myriad ways. They use their bodies as percussion instruments taking their cues from the All-Stars. They enter into claustrophobic formations and stomp their way out. There is a touchingly inconclusive scene between John Henry and Polly Ann (Patrice Johnson Chevannes).The contributions are many — not to be overlooked are Barney O'Hanlon's strikingly unpredictable choreography as well as first-rate lighting and sound design. The All-Stars cook.But the special brilliance of "Steel Hammer" is the way in which the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. As complex and perplexing music theater for complex and perplexing times, the production makes our social concerns no less monumental, just more exciting, which may be the greatest form of activism.