What We Feel and What We Mean
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Category — Theater

Interpreting an Interpretation: A David Mills Performance

On the night of Tuesday, November 1, 2011, David Mills stood on stage, alone facing the crowd, performing Langston Hughes. I heard it’d be fantastic, but before the event, I had a preconceived notion that I wouldn’t find it interesting. An unintentionally preconceived notion, that is. After all, I’m not a fan of Langston Hughes or much of poetry for that matter. So a performance of Langston Hughes’s poems? Not a recipe to satisfy my taste buds.

I did my best to rid myself of those horrible notions and as I walked in to the show (a bit late, unfortunately), after ten minutes or so, I got into the vibe of the performance. Quite interesting, I must say. I admired how fluidly Mills transitioned from character to character. His emphasis on voice, tone, accent. All astounding. Even though the performance was minimal, in terms of props, scenes, cast, and costumes, it was still entertaining. Imagination played a huge part in making up for the lack of a setting, but his acting carried on well enough that I wasn’t imagining the whole scheme of things. I naturally understood the scenes.

While I do believe that the performance was interesting and fun, I didn’t find myself completely captivated by it. If anything, I was captivated by his enthusiasm and tonal changes. (The only performance that captivated me was the one of Elder Jones nailed to a cross – Rock, Church is the name of the short story.) But maybe I’m asking too much from the show. The subject matter just wasn’t my cup of tea.

In addition to performing Langston Hughes’s works, Mills performed one of his own poems, Great Adventures. Fast-paced, funny, a roller-coaster of tone and emotions. I found that piece delightful in its packaging and deep in its meaning. Putting my biases aside, overall, Mills delivered a pleasant one-man show.

November 3, 2011   No Comments

Meet the Artist: Performing Langston Hughes

Performing Langston Hughes by David Mills was a really powerful performance. Mills’ strong personality only augments the natural charm and rhythm of Hughes’ engaging works. I particularly loved the Madam poems. Mills plays a woman so well; his body language, his posture, and his gesticulations so clearly depicted a woman. He mentioned he tries to keep his physical props to a minimum (a pencil, a handkerchief, and a piece of paper) for practical reasons (he performs in different places) and because he wants to create a world with his words. I have read Hughes’ works and “Madam” always seemed overdone; Mills’ performance was very true to that persona. He captures the humor and gravity of who Madam is. She isn’t meant to be cartoonish but she is meant to be amusing.

Mills also performed one of his own pieces. It was interesting and well-written and rhythmic to the point where it could have been music. I liked Hughes’ pieces better, though. Mills himself pointed out that Langston Hughes’ works are much more direct whereas his pieces are more “out there”. I also found it interesting that Mills seemed incredibly reluctant to admit that Hughes’ work had any effect on his writing. He was very possessive of his poetry and clearly very proud of it. That’s not a bad thing but it was interesting because he lived in Hughes’ home for three years. I got the impression Mills was saying he was not profoundly affected by Hughes’ work. Which begs the question: “Why is he performing it and why did he study said poet so carefully, so much so that he lived in his house, if he wasn’t actually moved by the poetry?” He mentioned Merry-Go-Round by Langston Hughes in relation to a poem of his “Adventureland”. So maybe he was affected and he just wasn’t expressing himself clearly.

I was thinking that performing poetry is not really another form of art, separate from poetry itself. After hearing Mills perform Hughes’ poetry, I realized that the poems were meant to be read aloud. They have a lyrical quality that is missed if simply read. I imagine it’s like saying a song as opposed to singing it. Mills definitely brought his strong personality into his performance of Hughes’ poetry but (in my opinion) he didn’t distort the works in doing so.

And then again, Mills has a really strong personality and he definitely injected some of that into Hughes’ pieces. Also, he isn’t doing these shows for free. He has a producer and he plans it out. He is making a presentation aimed to entertain. This is his living. In a way, I felt like if Hughes himself had performed the works, then they might have been poetry in its truest form. So maybe Mills’ act is a new art form- performing poetry. Once the words were spun through David Mills’ eyes, they changed.

November 2, 2011   No Comments

Meet the Artists “Performing Langston Hughes”

David Mills blew me away with his comical performance of the Langston Hughes works. Although I’m not a huge fan of poetry, I have enjoyed Hughes poetry in the past. Since Hughes is mostly known for his poetry I was really surprised to learn today that he had also written 47 plays which is more then what Shakespeare has written.

Mills performance was a combination of several of Hughes short stories. I found the way he started the performance interesting since instead of starting on the stage like others, he appeared from the back and had already begun his performance while walking to the stage. Voice in this performance is very important as he changes the pitch to let you know that there’s a change in character in his one man dialogue. He brings comic relief to the audience with higher pitch voice and the way he displays the characters attitude. My favorite part of the performance was the short story with the woman who was getting robbed by a kid on the street. I found the story funny but I also liked the underlying theme. The kid who’s trying to steal the purse didn’t realize the purse would be so heavy and in an attempt to run with the purse ends up falling himself due to the weight of the purse. He is then caught by the woman. Instead of bringing him to the authorities though, the woman brings the boy to where she lives, lets him wash his dirty face and even provides him with food. Throughout this part of the performance, I really enjoyed the way Mills changed from each character, from the shivering nervous kid to the powerful woman. He displayed the emotions behind their actions well by portraying how the woman now had control of the boy since she showed him who’s boss. The boy now afraid to run away from woman after attempting to steal her purse, just obeys her throughout the rest of the performance. What left me smiling in the end was when the woman asked him why he tried to steal her purse and he said then he wanted to buy shoes. Most people would get angry at people trying to steal their things but instead she replied with, “why didn’t you just ask me for the money?” At the end of that part of the story, the woman gives the boy $10 to buy his shoes. I found it nice that Hughes would write about the unexpected kindheartedness some people may have in them and I really enjoyed how well Mills displayed it. Mills never displayed the woman as gentle or naive, but it was rather the blunt way he portrayed her and how natural it was for her to just give.

As a treat to the audience Mills also performed one of his own works to compare it to Hughes “Merry go Round.” Mills performed his work titled “Great Adventure.” Both these works relate to segregation and racism. In both you can see the interaction the characters have with the issue of the race.  It’s kind of sad when you watch the performance and the children have to deal with the issue of racism on the rides. Mills “Great Adventure” is more of a modern day amusement park after Six Flags while during Hughes time there weren’t as many amusement parks. Mills tries to display how something we take for granted like all the amusement parks we have is precious to others and how they might not even be able to enjoy it as much. Throughout the story the children encounter segregation laws as they go on the rides. We see the guide cough after he says hold on to all your possessions which shows the stereotype that people hold. Compared to Mills interpretation of Hughes, the way he performs his own stories, is more active. There’s a lot more motion and it’s a lot more upbeat compared to his previous performance.

Ultimately, I really enjoyed David Mills performance. I felt that he interpreted Hughes really well and did a lot of research to get the right tone, feeling and message. His accents through the performance was to show where Hughes had written each work since he wrote one work in Italy and others in different areas. He also lived in Hughes old apartment for 3 years. I assume it would give him a better feel of the conditions Hughes was under when he wrote some of his works and the daily lifestyle Hughes would have in his neighborhood.


November 2, 2011   No Comments