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Daniel Beaty’s Resurrection had its first reading at Busboys and Poets last year, while the actor/writer was in town impressing audiences with his performance piece, Emergence-SEE! Although he’s since performed Resurrection himself as a one-man show, Arena’s production is its first ensemble staging. Beaty spotlights the (mostly internal) struggles of six black men: young scientist Eric (Thuliso Dingwall), age 10; earnest ’Twon (Turron Kofi Alleyne) 20; ex-junkie/ex-con Dre (Che Ayende), 30; successful businessman Isaac (Alvin Kieth), 40; health food store owner Mr. Rogers (Michael Genet), 50; and megachurch leader the Bishop (Jeffery V. Thompson), 60.
If you noticed the neatness of those age breakdowns and wondered if they perhaps bespoke of an overly schematic playwright, you’d be wrong, mostly. Beaty has a fine ear and an intuitive sense for the essential messiness of life, even if his characterizations can seem tidy in contrast.
He’s said Resurrection owes something to Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. That 1975 play (originally directed on Broadway by Resurrection director Oz Scott) offered both a cry for unity among black women and a blistering critique of abusive or absent black men. In Resurrection, Beaty’s six males get the (quite literal) spotlight, stepping forward to address the audience in monologues laced with music and poetry.
Although these monologues are expressively, often movingly written and performed, Resurrection feels like an explicit response, its agenda still too wrapped up in acknowledging the shadow of Shange. Take, for example, the way all of Beaty’s characters speak of the women in their lives with precisely the same surfeit of reverence and awe. It’s a hopeful, doubtlessly well-intentioned choice, but that earnest sameness is one of the reasons these characters never achieve the individuality and roundedness to which they aspire.
Another reason: The show hasn’t yet shed its one-man-show provenance. For most of the running time, Beaty and director Scott are content to let each actor stand in a spotlight and declaim. On the still too-infrequent occasions when the characters are allowed to interact with one another, sparks well and truly fly, and Resurrection edges closer to achieving a deep (and deeply felt) meditation on both blackness and maleness. You’ll find yourself waiting impatiently for those fleeting, disparate moments and wondering, at the end of the evening, why they never cohered.