It was 1930 When Langston Hughes met Cuba's Poet Laureate–to–be Nicolas Guillen, and the two young writers — both born with the turn of that century — were burning with ambition and the awareness that their mulatto skin was their fuel. Though Harlem's darling and a martyr's son shared the same color and considered themselves soul mates, over the next 37 years, different pressures splintered their brotherhood during the Spanish Revolution and proved an unbridgeable gulf during the '60s, when Hughes was persecuted in McCarthy's courtroom and Guillen was celebrated in Castro's revolution. At stake is the power of poetry — and the duty of the poet to back up his words. Bernardo Solano and Nancy Cheryll Davis' lyrical, decades-spanning play is one-part plot, one-part playtime, with frequent dips into dance, music and recitation. The enthusiastic 17-person ensemble fills the stage, as charismatic leads Justin Alston and Chris Rivas, and later the stately Brian Evert Chandler and Armando Ortega, hit the big points on the time line. Though it's plenty smart, the political charge is dissipated by intimations that the artists were more than friends — or at least hoped to be. It's a pointless distraction, albeit one that comes with Ana Maria Lagasca and Maggie Palomo's charming turns as Guillen's jealous wife. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; through May 2. (323) 465-4446.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: April 9. Continues through May 2, 2010
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