By ANITA GATES
“Run, black man, run,” Daniel Beaty says fiercely. “Run to your children — hold them tight.”
It’s not surprising that Bill Cosby is a fan of Mr. Beaty’s work. It brings to life everything that Mr. Cosby has spoken out about in recent years in terms of African-Americans’ taking responsibility for their own lives. And when Mr. Beaty takes up the topic, it’s not a speech. It’s a poem.
“Through the Night,” which Mr. Beaty is performing with his signature wit, grit and piercing lyricism, is a thing of beauty. Now in a limited run at the Riverside Theater in Morningside Heights, this drama has been described as a look at what it means to be black and male in the United States today, but its deepest meanings transcend race and gender.
Mr. Beaty’s work could be compared to many solo shows in which a performer portrays multiple characters, but his method is different, at least in this play. “Through the Night” has a clear-cut, linear plot that takes shape smoothly and artfully, and builds to a real-life crisis with a jolt of magic realism.
The black men in “Through the Night” are striving, and that is taking its toll, even on 10-year-old Eric, who is determined to develop a magic formula for his herbal iced tea. His father, Mr. Rogers (whose neighborhood is Harlem), is trying desperately to make a go of his health-food store, but people, it seems, would rather clog their arteries with so-called soul food.
Mr. Rogers’s one employee, Dre, is fighting the temptation to use drugs again while he waits for his first child to be born, praying that the baby will, unlike its parents, be H.I.V.-free. Eric’s pal ’Twon has won one battle — he is graduating from high school — but is struggling for the courage to go away to college in Atlanta, to a world that is foreign to him.
’Twon’s mentor, Isaac, a music-industry executive, works long, stress-filled hours, but puts almost as much energy into hiding the reason he’s 40 and unmarried. His father, a successful minister with a congregation of 10,000, is fighting for his life. He weighs 300 pounds, is diabetic and joins Overeaters Anonymous, but still wants creamy, chocolaty HoHos in the middle of the night.
Women are not seen that often, but they are a vital, cherished part of the men’s lives: Mr. Rogers’s long-gone mother, who cleaned offices to support her children (“I never saw you dance”), for instance, and his wife, who toils at a salaried job so her husband can keep his store going. And Mr. Beaty’s gifts are such that when female characters do speak through him, his demeanor and posture change in astonishing ways. I could swear he suddenly has breasts, but maybe that’s a trick of Jacqueline Reid’s lighting design.
Read the entire article here: Black Men in America as Stressed-Out Strivers
“Through the Night” continues through May 23 at the Riverside Theater, in Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Avenue, at 120th Street, Morningside Heights; (212) 870-6784; www.theriversidetheatre.org.