Through the Night (Review)

Daniel Beaty stands inside six different men and brings them to life

Oct 1, 2012 at 8:29 am

Critic's Pick
Daniel Beaty’s one-man-show, Through the Night, now on the Shelterhouse stage at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, is an electrifying theatrical examination of fatherhood, family and faith. Through the elegance and simplicity of one man on a bare stage, Beaty filters a wealth of stories, feelings, poetry, personalities and music into a refined piece of theater that moves and inspires as it entertains.

In Through the Night, Beaty plays primarily six African-American men, ages 10 to 60. Their lives are wildly different: a brilliant, hopeful child scientist and his father; a struggling small business owner; a young man from the projects on his way to college; his mentor, a successful, corporate higher-up and his father, the beloved minister of an enormous congregations; and a recovering heroin addict awaiting the arrival of his first baby. Beaty stands inside each one, assuming his posture and voice, revealing secrets and dreams. Occasionally, he steps outside one of them, portraying someone who loves them and, more importantly, believes in them, including the wives of the preacher and the struggling shop owner, the mother of the college-bound young man. Despite differing existences, each man has found himself at a precipice — becoming a father, beating addiction or closing a much-beloved shop. In one particularly dark night, each has to decide to give up or keep on.

A Yale drama school graduate of many talents, Beaty makes his living as an actor, writer and musician, traveling extensively throughout the U.S., Europe and Africa and producing his work to great acclaim. Another of Beaty’s solo pieces, Emergen-See! (now titled Emergency) had a sold-out, extended run off-Broadway at The Public Theater in 2006, as well as a one-night presentation during the Playhouse’s alteractive series. In Emergency, Beaty played 25 different characters, earning an Obie award for excellence in off-Broadway writing and performing and an AUDELCO award for best solo performance. His lengthy list of other projects includes a new solo play, Mr. Joy; a musical, Breathe & Imagination – The Story of Roland Hayes; and another solo project The Tallest Tree in the Forest. His first children’s book will be released next year. After his opening night performance, Beaty, a Dayton native turned New Yorker, made a point of thanking his audience for attending, saying he loved coming back to the area to perform.

Moment to moment, Beaty is a masterful performer. The play opens with the little boy. He is in his lab, a special nook of his family’s house that’s entirely his. He dodges his father’s calls to come to dinner so he can continue to perfect his recipe that will cure broken hearts. As he stirs and samples, using herbs from his father’s health food store, he hums the theme to Transformers, a cartoon about warring robots that can talk and fight and even change shape into cars and trucks and space ships. Beaty embodies perfectly the little boy’s innocence and earnestness as he describes his favorite show while establishing transformation as one of the show’s key themes.

Beaty’s performance blends artistry and athleticism. Alone onstage for 100 minutes, he never hides or leaves the space or even changes his clothes. To become a new person, his body simply assumes the body of a particular character. He transitions smoothly, even beautifully among them, gracefully communicating the size, the habits and the inner life of each, almost instantly. Beaty has tremendous vocal flexibility and strength, producing the preacher’s cavernous bass and then even his wife’s sweet, reedy alto. No two people sound or move the same way. I was so wrapped up in his characters’ lives that I forgot I was watching a solo performer. I was totally transported by his ability to bring his characters to life so vividly. The language and the music of the play are as rich as its people. Beaty frequently abandons direct address for spoken word, letting his breathtaking poetry carry the show’s emotion. Beaty’s singing is in and of itself worth the price of admission.

Beaty is true to his characters, always living fully, honestly in the moment. But he also manages a rapport with the audience, a special back-and-forth that comes with years of experience and the gift of performing in a small, intimate space such as Shelterhouse theatre. As he summons these six special men, he also courts the imaginations of those lucky enough to be in the audience.

THROUGH THE NIGHT, presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through Oct. 21.