By Daniel Beaty
Produced by Arena Stage in collaboration with Hartford Stage
Directed by Oz Scott
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
The gifted poet/playwright Daniel Beaty here presents us with a meditation on the self-empowerment of men, and in particular African-American men, which is earnest, perceptive and – dare I say it – a little preachy. Beaty clearly knows what he means to say but he has not yet captured a way to say it artfully, and so says it straight out. As a sermon or a speech it is both sensible and occasionally compelling, but as a piece of theater it is not here yet.
When he performed an earlier version of the piece for the American Theater Critics Association last June, Beaty described this work as a response to for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf, Ntozake Shange’s 1975 archclassic. for colored girls.. described Black men being brutal to Black women, and so the six flawed men who make up Resurrection approach the women they love – wives and mothers – with a sort of reverence which sanctifies both the women and the men. But know this: there are no good plays about saints.
The play begins and ends with the quest of 10-year-old aspiring scientist Erik (Thuliso Dingwall) to devise a chemical formula to mend “the aching hearts of Black men.” The child’s quest – as though the world’s wounds could be healed by a herbal tea! – seems at once touching and ridiculous until we remember that serotonin-reuptake inhibitors are science’s principal answer to human pain, and as a people we are more willing to medicate our sorrows than to confront them. The child’s father, Mr. Rogers (Michael Genet) is on his own chemical quest, too: to promote health foods and in particular a vegan diet to his primarily Black community, a task he likens to trying to get vegans to eat fried chicken. He owns a health food store, and in this endeavor he is assisted by Dre (Che Alleyne) a 30-year old ex-con with a pregnant girlfriend who is sponsored by the Bishop (Jeffery V. Thompson) from a local megachurch. In the meantime, the Bishop’s son Isaac (Alvin Keith), an important executive in the music business, mentors ‘Twon (Turron Kofi Alleyne), a young man who has struggled with dyslexia to graduate from high school and will now be a Morehouse man, as were Isaac and Dr. King.
The hearts of Black men ache because of the torments in their lives, which are given a full airing here: food addiction, HIV, premature fatherhood, business failure. These woes are not, of course, the exclusive provenance of Black men, but for Black men in America there is a gloss of three hundred years of slavery, followed by a hundred years of separate and unequal treatment. In this play, Black men feel the shame of slavery and oppression keenly (and isn’t it interesting that it is the victim that feels shame, and not the slaver and the oppressor?), and it stymies them as they try to live their lives. They need resurrection, and if they cannot find it in Erik’s herbal tea they must find it in their own poisoned hearts.
for colored girls…consists of twenty largely-disconnected “choreopoems”, and here, too, Beaty’s characters address their dialogue principally to the audience, rather than each other. The technique gives the play its narrative drive, but it tempts the playwright to explain the play to us, rather than allowing the audience to discover the truths on its own. I regret to report that Beaty occasionally yields to this temptation. In his brilliant Emergen-SEE! (now called “Emergency“) Beaty made his points through his compelling narrative; in Resurrection he tends to let his characters announce them.
This sort of writing sometimes makes performances difficult, but the actors here largely do the play justice. Keith is particularly strong as Isaac. His character has a secret, and he prepares us for it with subtlety and depth from the moment he steps on the stage. Thompson, Ayende and Alleyne also have powerful moments. Young Dingwall has terrific stage presence, but he will have to work on his diction and projection to be heard in the cheap seats. He spends much of his time stage right, which presents additional difficulties to patrons sitting stage left.
The technical elements are, as usual, first-rate. Of special note is Karen Perry’s costume design, which splendidly recognizes the difference between the glory that it inside the characters and their present tattered state. The play’s action also has a powerful musical counterpart, which Daniel Bernard Roumain composed with production help from Elan Vytal (Roumain and Vytal often collaborate under the names of DBR and DJ Scientific, respectively).
In his candid and revealing interview with Joel Markowitz, Director Oz Scott admitted two weeks ago that he was still working with Beaty to help the play reach final form. (To hear this interview, go here). We can count on Beaty, who writes so perceptively about the need to struggle against deep odds and temporary failure, to eventually come up with a play which reflects his massive talent.
Running Time: 1:30 (no intermission)
When: Tuesdays through Sundays until October 5. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays are at 7.30, except there is no evening show on September 23 and a 6 p.m. curtain on September 28. All other evening shows are at 8. There are also Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2, except on September 28 and October 5. There are also weekday noon matinees on September 23 and 24 and October 1.
Where: Arena Stage Crystal City, 1800 S. Bell Street, Arlington, Virginia.
Tickets: $47-$66. For tickets go to www.arenastage.org or call 202.488-3300