by Willard Manus
on the heels of Nilaja Sun's memorable one-woman show NO CHILD at the
Kirk Douglas comes EMERGENCY, a solo performance piece by another equally
gifted young African-American actor, Daniel Beaty. It can be seen at the
Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
Where they differ is in content and scope. Sun focused on a relatively small canvas: her experiences as an arts teacher in an inner-city high school, trying to persuade her moody, rebellious and recalcitrant students to take part in a theatre project. Sun put many of her students (both male and female) on stage, plus the teachers, administrators and parents with whom she also had to deal.
Beaty's targets are larger and more complex: the impact of slavery on the USA, the trauma caused by racial segregation and prejudice, the struggle for equality and justice. The triggering dramatic device is the emergence of a 400-year-old slave ship in the waters surrounding the Statue of Liberty. We don't see the ship, of course, just hear about it from those who have been forced by circumstances to confront it--sightseers, TV pundits, homeless, historians, drag queens, slaves who perished when the ship went down, and so on. Beaty plays all of these people (40-plus, to be exact), besides inventing a protagonist called Rodney, a youthful African-American hoping to win a spoken-word competition.
Mixing hip-hop, slam poetry, politics (racial and sexual), past and present, sex, satire and hard-hitting social commentary, EMERGENCY comes off as one of the most original and provocative shows L.A. has ever seen. The same goes for Beaty himself. His gifts of mimicry and his ability to command the stage are remarkable, sometimes even breath-taking. It must be remembered too that he has also written the show himself--in raw, biting, heartfelt fashion.
Aided by director Charles Randolph-Wright, Beaty has made EMERGENCY a must-see theatrical experience.
Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave. Call 310-208-5454.