At the outset of Daniel Beaty's tour-de-force play Emergence-See!, a sunken slave ship rises from the depths of the Hudson River like an ominous ghost from America's past, and New York City spins into a frenzy. The ship appears in front of the Statue of Liberty, setting the stage for a whirlwind discovery of what it means to be free.
"[The play] is an exploration of our shared humanity," says Beaty, a New York-based actor, singer, playwright and slam poet. "It is intentionally off-center and quirky, not ... preachy in any way."
As sole creator and actor, Beaty plays 40 different characters throughout the 90-minute performance. He infuses each character with a distinct rhythm of speech and physical mannerisms, depending on his or her age, personality, appearance and world perspective.
Each character reacts differently to the emotionally puzzling emergence of the slave ship. With the help of an original a cappella vocal score and slam poetry, they take the audience on a journey of the human spirit.
"The main message I hold is that beyond race, class, gender and even politics, we are all connected, and we are all reflections of one another," Beaty says. "Through this variety of characters that are so different from one another, we can see ourselves."
Two brothers serve as the plot's central figures. At the beginning of the play, their schizophrenic father is missing, and over a phone conversation, the brothers discover he has climbed aboard the washed-up ship in the Hudson. One brother is at a poetry slam, which serves as the venue for the play's spoken-word spells.
With one platform and a chair, Beaty moves between dark and light settings and serious and comical moods. The story tackles life's most serious social challenges without being somber.
"[The audience] will be laughing about 50 percent of the time," Beaty says. "As a performer, I'm very interested in how laughter opens a space in our hearts."
Beaty is one of the Colorado Festival of World Theatre's most anticipated performers. He has studied opera, acting and motivational speaking, and has performed in Europe, Africa and various cities in the United States. He was the 2004 Grand Slam Champion at the world famous Nuyorican Poets Caf competition in New York, and recently appeared in the third and fourth seasons of HBO's "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry." He also performed at the White House for President Bill Clinton.
Emergence-See! is Beaty's third and most acclaimed play. It is an inspiration, a moral gadfly and an evening of entertainment.
Emergence-See! The Theatre at Pikes Peak Community College, 5475
S. Academy Blvd.
July 27-29, 7:30 p.m., with Saturday matinee at 2.
Tickets: $12-$45, discounts and package tickets available; visit coloradofestival.org or call 955-2599 for tickets. A limited number of $10 tickets are available to readers who mention this article.
To watch video of Daniel Beaty's performance, click here.