In Daniel Beaty’s Through the Night at City Theatre the actor/writer has created a beautiful performance piece like a fabric warming you, clinging to you through 75 minutes, compressing hours during a darkness lit by shining moments.
Beaty’s words interweave several developments, less like stories, more like revelations, full of soft and sweet poetic moments, including rap-suggesting internal rhymes, devoid of fury, rich in color. His body moves with eloquence and grace. Sometimes he sings as if a tender soul brother, embracing the overtones of the notes. And sometimes he resembles a passionate preacher, but one who doesn’t have to pound and stomp to make his points.
I can’t tell you precisely how many characters he personifies, more than six principal ones, fewer than a dozen, I imagine. Who would sit there and take the time to count when what counts is the result, not the virtuosity?
Two sets of fathers and sons as well as two young men try to change their lives for the better. All connect, being part of the same community in a housing project.
Mr. Rogers owns Maxine’s Health Foods, an unsuccessful shop for herbal remedies and healthy meals. His precocious 10 year old son Eric seeks formulas to heal and strengthen anyone with whom he comes in contact. On the other side of the food chain, 300 pound, 60 year old Bishop Sanders imperils his own flesh and blood addicted to HoHos. His other flesh and blood, his son Isaac, an unmarried 40 year old over-achieving music industry executive, questions his own identity. In this rich tapestry is 20 year old ‘Twon, a college-bound high school student, encouraged and mentored by Isaac but who wants to make something of his life on his own. And there is Dre, a recovering addict who cherishes the woman he loves carrying his yet-to-be born child. Dre has sometimes worked at Mr. Rogers' shop.
Beaty also seemingly effortlessly conjures up the women in these lives, never satirizing but rather admiring them for their strength. And sometimes he remarkably plays two sides of the same discourse between fathers and sons, full of definition and clear meaning. Nothing feels designed merely to entertain. And, although the opening night audience justly applauded the riffs and refrains that stood out in separate moments, appropriately, everything was honored with respect, not punctuated by in-the-know laughter.
Yes, this stays serious but not sad, more full of hope than sorrow. I call it art.
Through the Night runs through February 5th at City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side. 412/431-4400 and www.citytheatrecompany.org