- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

The last play Daniel Beaty brought to town was “Emergence-SEE!” (now called “Emergency”) a one-man show that focused heavily on the importance of black Americans maintaining connections with their past.

Now he’s back with the world premiere of his first ensemble production, “Resurrection,” a work that looks more intently at the problematic present experienced by many black men while also delivering a formula for a more promising future. It’s the season opener at Arena Stage, a venue that has nurtured this play since its first public reading at the District’s Busboys & Poets restaurant last summer.

Inspired by the National Urban League’s 2007 state of black America report, “Portrait of the Black Male,” “Resurrection” tackles head-on myriad issues facing this demographic. Though racism remains more of an unspoken shadow that lurks about the work, Mr. Beaty gives topics such as sexuality, obesity, AIDS and economic disenfranchisement plenty of time in the spotlight.

The play’s six characters range in age from 10 to 60. Each starts off as something of a stereotype - the college-bound success story from the projects (‘Twon, played by Turron Kofi Alleyne), the thunderous megachurch preacher (Bishop, played by Jeffery V. Thompson), the ex-con (Dre, played by Che Ayende) and so forth. By the final bow, however, all six men have become multidimensional via Mr. Beaty’s carefully chosen plot twists and revelations.

Some of the playwright’s greatest strengths are his rhythm and wordplay. It’s not enough that his characters’ lives in the inner city are woven together through circumstance and relationships; Mr. Beaty’s script also shuttles verbal threads - a word, a line, a theme - between the men. Sometimes he’s working with multiple strings, as he does in one scene that cuts back and forth between Dre, recently released from prison, and Isaac (Alvin Keith), a closeted homosexual, each of whom is discussing love. The former is haunted by a “low-down” thing he has done to his girlfriend, while the latter is tortured by his life “on the down-low,” or in the closet.

Mr. Beaty’s manner of thematic and verbal overlap yields a piece that is both cohesive and dynamic, that feels infused with the playful and powerful energy of hip-hop’s poetry and that challenges its audience to compare and contrast the disparate obstacles that black men encounter.

“Resurrection” veers into territory that ranges from sad to shocking, though a peppering of laughs keeps the play from being too leaden.

The show’s cast boasts a tremendous stock of talent.

Directed by Oz Scott, the actors find the human in their characters and elicit real identification and empathy from the audience. Several monologues are goose-bump-inducing (particularly one delivered by Mr. Ayende), while others leave ticket holders seriously squirming (such as the love-scene-gone-wrong speech by Mr. Alleyne).

A clever set design by G.W. Mercier completes this winning trifecta. A giant “X” cuts through what looks like heavy brown stone. Stacked glass jars of “herbs” (representing a character’s health-food store) create a precarious feeling, while blue skies visible through the body of the X hint at hope.

With “Resurrection,” Mr. Beaty clearly envisions a better day for the black male - and after this play, it’s likely that many will predict a bright future for him.

★★★½

WHAT: “Resurrection” by Daniel Beaty

WHERE: Arena Stage, Crystal City 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington

WHEN: Through Oct. 5. Showtimes vary.

TICKETS: $47 to $66

PHONE: 202/488-3300

WEB SITE: www.arenastage.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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