REVIEW: Emergency by Daniel Beaty

Deondra Kamau Means is a tour de force in EMERGENCY at NKU
Deondra Kamau Means is a tour de force in “EMERGENCY” at NKU in a joint production by the Department of Theatre and Dance and the Department of African American Programs and Services

It’s February – Black History Month – and I cannot think of a better way to focus my attention on the history of African Americans and their culturally diverse past than attending Daniel Beaty’s EMERGENCY at NKU this afternoon. This 80 minute one man show enlists the talents of Deondra Kamau Means as he plays 27 different characters ranging from a homeless man, a pre-op transsexual, a mentally ill and grief stricken former professor, a slaveologist, and a young girl among many others. He morphs in and out of each character with ease; never once was I confused about which character was speaking. This is the first time I’ve seen him on stage and I am still blown away by his presence, his versatility, and his voice.  Director Daryl Harris brings out the best in his actor and scenic designer Andrew Hungerford’s minimalistic set and video projections add to the show without taking away from the amazing work of Mr. Means.

The story is set around an unusual event: a slave ship has pulled up to the Statue of Liberty and New York City is in a tizzy.  A mentally ill father has jumped from the Hudson River bridge on to the ship and the media is a buzz.  We meet his two sons and others who’s lives are touched by this mysterious happening.  Means plays them all with enthusiasm and truth, not shying away from the honesty of each character even if it requires him to act silly or angry or sad.  He really is a tour de force here.  He manages to seamlessly use spoken word, slam poetry, and song to tell this unique story, which while unusual and fanciful captures the essence of the African American experience as well as it can be captured in 80 minutes. I know I was moved by it.

The League of Cincinnati Theatres awarded this show a rare 5 star rating – the first show to earn this honor in 2014 and Means and Harris were recognized by the LCT for their work as well.  One of the LCT panelists (of which both Deondra and I are as well) in attendance said, “A very experienced storyteller, Mr. Means was able to envelope the audience in the truth, joy, and anger of these various African American characters who spoke volumes of truth.”

It’s unfortunate that this show has already ended its short weekend run before all of Cincinnati had a chance to see it.  Perhaps one of the theaters in town (Falcon or KNOW or even Clifton Performance Theatre, I’m looking at you) will revive this show later on this year.  This is a show that should be seen.  I’m so glad I saw it and wish you had too.

The author of this play, Daniel Beaty, will be performing at the Playhouse in the Park on Monday, February 24th at 6:30 PM.  His 45 minute performance will be followed by a question and answer session and book signing in the Rosenthal Plaza.  Tickets are free but reservations are required.  Call the Box Office at 513-421-3888 to reserve your free ticket.

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