Alvin Keith, Jeffery V. Thompson, and
Turron Kofi Alleyne in Resurrection
(© Scott Suchman)
Alvin Keith, Jeffery V. Thompson, and
Turron Kofi Alleyne in Resurrection
(© Scott Suchman)
The first thing you see at Arena Stage's production of Daniel Beaty's deeply moving Resurrection is a stage-filling backdrop featuring two stylized pathways converging into a tilted and roughly t-shaped form against a dark background. Is it a cross or is it a crossroads? Beaty's answer is that it is both, signaling redemption as well as choices that need to be made.

Blending dramatic vignettes with music and poetry, Resurrection takes us into the lives of six African-American males, one 10 years old and the other men at ages 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60. Each is struggling to survive and thrive in a difficult world, and each has a choice to make. We see their stories unfold mostly separately, until they simultaneously undergo a mystical phenomenon that Beaty frames as a call for unity. In doing so, the play examines the links between individuality and community in a way that ultimately transcends race.

At the center is keenly intelligent, 10/Eric (Thuliso Dingwall), the son of 50/Mr. Rogers (Michael Genet), a health food store owner. Eric is a scientific prodigy, mixing herbs from his father's store "to find a cure for the aching heart of black America." His father, meanwhile, is on the verge of losing the shop under grinding financial pressures. 60/The Bishop (Jeffrey V. Thompson) is overweight and struggling with food addiction. His son 40/Isaac (Alvin Keith) is a closeted, successful executive. 30/Dre (Che Ayende), recently out of prison, is determined to build an honest life with his pregnant, HIV-infected girlfriend. 20/Twon (Turron Kofi Alleyne) has overcome dyslexia, graduated high school, and is on his way to college.

Each character tells his story in short snippets, addressing the audience in a continuously shifting collage featuring both drama and comedy. Director Oz Scott's pacing is dynamic, allowing each actor considerable range in intensity and energy, and that helps the individual characters come alive as the stories are woven into a cohesive theme.

Added to the mix is the music of Haitian-American composer Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), who combines classical violin with a range of jazzy soundscapes. Citing difficulties in accurately reproducing the score on stage, Arena has recorded it for playback, as performed by DBR collaborator Elan Vytal. The music is seamlessly integrated into the drama and evocatively enhances its emotional impact.

Still, the work's theatricality sometimes intrudes as characters break away from "reality" to chant fragments of poetry in unison, often sounding forced and artificial. The poem/song which may be titled "Dance, Mama, Dance" (no information on songs/poems is listed) is the most compelling piece as a character imagines his late mother in heaven, pulling joy out of deep sorrow.

Its flaws aside, Resurrection is ultimately a satisfying journey that tells us things we probably already know, but can always benefit from with a reminder.