In Through the Night, currently running at the Union Square Theatre, playwright-performer Daniel Beaty demonstrates a style of performance that is truly his own. Like Anna Deveare Smith and Spalding Gray, Beaty has come up with a unique way of holding the stage, by blending characterization, song, and inspirational “arias” — poetic set pieces that gain applause and yet blend right back into the show itself. It’s something that must be seen.
The play, which has been seen earlier this year at New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre and Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, is a powerful exhortation to the black community — particularly its men — to come together, accept each other, and strive to better themselves. Beaty plays six characters ranging in age from 10 to 69, all struggling to find a path to stability through a world full of temptations that include ho-hos and fried food to heroin.
The first we meet is a child named Eric, whose passion to save the adults around him may cause his death. Soon, we meet Eric’s father, Mr. Rogers, who operates a health food store in the ghetto; employee Dre, a recovering addict about to have his first baby; Tuan, who is graduating from high school and on his way out of the ghetto and onto college; Tuan’s mentor, Isaac, a music company executive who hasn’t come out of the closet; and Isaac’s father Bishop, a preacher whose overeating threatens to send him to an early grave.
While most of the women in their lives are mostly spoken about, Beaty also shows us glimpses of Tuan’s sassy mother, Bishop’s worried wife, and the hard-working Mrs. Rogers, and the performer’s skill and training allow each of these men and women to be fully distinguishable.
Director Charles Randolph-Wright sensitively paces Beaty’s transitions from comedy to pathos, and Alexander V. Nichols’ background projections and Lindsay Jones’ original music effectively underscore the work, most notably its poetic set-pieces. For example, when Isaac sings, gloriously, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” then reverts back to his nasal, inhibited delivery, it’s a theatrical marvel as well as an inspiring moment.
Admittedly, there are times that Through the Night seems corny. But that’s because sermons that touch you always are, because they tell the truth.