Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3
The Tragic Mode: Mulatto

Hughes's "star as a playwright shone most brightly during the thirties." Mulatto, a tragedy of family relationships and miscegenation, explored issues of race during a critical period in American social relations. It held the record for the longest running Broadway play by an African American until Lorraine Hansberry A Raisin in the Sun ( 1959). 1

Mulatto was one of a handful of didactic plays of the 1930s that portrayed black characters and racial issues. Others included DuBose Heyward's Brass Ankle ( 1931), Paul Green Hymn to the Rising Sun, Paul Peters and George Sklar Stevedore ( 1934), and John Wexley They Shall Not Die ( 1934). 2 In addition, black playwrights of the '30s, such as Owen Dodson and Theodore Ward, dealt with race, political ideology, and portrayals of black urban communities. Dodson Divine Comedy, which satirized Father Divine's efforts in Harlem, was staged in Atlanta in a 1938 production directed by Dodson. 3 Theodore Ward Big White Fog, set in Chicago, dealt with nationalism in the Garvey tradition and radical organizing. Hughes was the only playwright who "broached the problem of miscegenation during the 1930's." 4

Langston Hughes's national reputation as a dramatist was achieved through the 1935 Martin Jones Broadway production of Mulatto, which, to Hughes's surprise, was in rehearsal when Hughes returned to New York from California. Prior to his return to New York, Hughes had continued his activities in California in support of the Scottsboro case. 5

Hughes began writing Mulatto while in attendance at the Hedgerow Theatre during the summer of 1929 and had completed a draft the

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