Daniel Beaty in Through the Night
(© ZM Wright)
Daniel Beaty in Through the Night
(© ZM Wright)
Daniel Beaty's new solo work Through the Night, now at New Jersey's Crossroads Theatre prior to a run at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, may be one of the most uplifting and inspiring pieces of theater you'll see this year.

Beaty, who won an Obie Award for his one man show Emergence-SEE, is a powerful talent whose societal observations are as sharp as his characterizations, and he has a pointed sense of humor and a gripping sense of rhythm that turns some speeches into spoken arias, some into sermons, and some into gorgeous prose-poems. Moreover, Beaty has a background as a motivational speaker, so it's no surprise that the play has a message -- about children and their importance to the community -- that is truly worth delivering.

Director Charles Randolph-Wright sensitively paces Beaty's transitions from comedy to pathos and from character to character. He sets off the lyrical passages elegantly so that they seem not a disruption but a punctuation mark that gives the play its shape. Beaty quickly introduces six different characters, all male, ranging in age from 10 to 60-something. (A few female characters make an appearance but only as characters describe them.)

At first, it's unclear how the characters are connected, as Beaty darts from slatted rehearsal cube to slatted rehearsal cube on Alexander V. Nichols' spare, elegant set. We encounter each person doing something characteristic, often, characteristically funny, like about-to-be-high-school-graduate Tuan telling us how since Obama's election he and his friends don't use the N-word, but greet each other with "Sup, President?"

The connections emerge quickly, however: music executive Isaac is Tuan's mentor, who helped him begin to realize his potential; Bishop is Isaac's father; Dray works in the health food shop owned by Mr. Rogers, who is the father of Eric and who is contemplating selling the unprofitable shop he loves, and so on. Beaty changes voices and posture definitively, and at lightning speed, sometimes within a speech, as one character reports what another one said. It's clear that Beaty wants to remind us that everyone, particularly in the African-American community, is connected to each other.

Nichols fills in his grey, semicircular design with his own scenic projections that tell us whether we are in Isaac's corporate music office, Mr. Rogers' vegan health food store, or the Projects where Tuan lives. Lindsay Jones' literal sound effects also add a sense of place, with Jones' original music punching up the emotion (at times edging on overkill). But even without them, Beaty's message would come through loud and clear.