The Ridgelea Reports on Theatre
"Resurrection" at Hartford Stage
Daniel Beatty’s “Resurrection,” having a world premiere now at Hartford Stage, is a theatre piece not to be missed! For Biblical enthusiasts and mythologists it is such an important production that it becomes required watching, so for many reasons I am telling you up front that this is a play you must arrange to see.
By coincidence, because of another meeting in Washington, I happened to be present for the so-called “million man” gathering a decade ago, and so the context of this play is well known to me (and a million others – probably including you). It is based on the theory that the black man in America today has retreated from a noble heritage and become less than is called for in our society. A broader context, which will help you if you are not black, suggests that all men have done this in the modern world and that we all can be better for struggling with the responsibility left behind.
The particular story line of Beatty’s play involves a young African American boy named Eric, with genius qualities [Thulisio Dingwall], his father [Michael Genet], who runs a health food store as an unintentional non-profit association, the Bishop [Jeffery V. Thomson], a very overweight and quite successful religious leader with a secret addiction, his son Isaac [Alvin Kieth], a slim, successful, and creative marketing manager with a secret of his own, a young student tempted to skip college [Turron Kofi Alleyne], and an ex-con [Che Ayende] who during his re-entry time has fathered a child with his girl friend. There are no women among the actors, but women are very much a part of the play – referred to with awe, with admiration, with caring, and with shame on the part of the characters.
The action begins as a dream sequence in young Eric’s sleepless tossing – five faceless men in African robes circle his bed and awaken him to an initiation into a tradition just beyond his grasp. Very soon the scene (on a magnificent set by G. W. Mercier) changes to Eric’s workshop, where he is trying to concoct the perfect combination of herbs and essences for a quick solution to people’s problems. While he is struggling with this sort of chemistry of healing, his father tells him he is glad to have him using the many herbs and extracts he has available, but there is one substance, high on a shelf, that he must never include – it is too potent, and just a little of it can cause a serious reaction!
And there we have it: the link between the African ritual, the herbs of the garden, and the Biblical themes. “From this tree you must never eat – it is too powerful – if you eat from it you will surely die.” Imagine the creative ten-year-old genius who would not make a careful note of where that jar is placed; of course it will return later. But in the meantime Eric, who also serves as a narrator, tells us of how he tries his formulas on persons he knows, offering them a little tea, and watching carefully to see if there is validity to his recipes – is there a quick healing? He gets to know Isaac as a mentor, Dre as a friend who works in his father’s store, the Bishop as an important friend of his dad’s. They all get to taste his teas. When, later, his dream is repeated the men in African robes have acquired faces. His father is the king! Again they draw him in, but as crisis involves each of them, Eric is motivated to finish his task and find the perfect solution of flowers and herbs. So he adds some new ingredients, including – of course – the forbidden fruit. He drinks it down, testing it on himself, and becomes desperately ill. Before he goes into a coma his father, in despair, discovers the empty jars of the latest ingredients. Eric’s body is carried to a place of light, and touched in a healing ritual by all the others.
I have purposely not detailed for you the several crises of the men, all very real, all handsomely delineated by the playwright. They deserve to be revealed to you while you are sharing this production. But each of their crises appears to be confronted by the sacrifice of Eric, and the appearance of a powerful angel who breaks open his apparent tomb. The moment of his resurrection finally has the impact he has been seeking in his workshop. You may decide for yourselves whether he has been raised, as in Masonic ritual, or released from death into new life. You may recall in your own minds how Jonah returned from the deep to praise God again in his sanctuary, how a Biblical Isaac was spared from human sacrifice by the appearance of the angel, how Jesus of Nazareth came to realize that only the cross could provide an ultimate solution, and soon after broke bread again with his disciples. All of these themes are there for the taking, and many more. Beatty has done a glorious job of writing; the music is by Daniel Bernard Roumain; the direction of this perfect cast is by Oz Scott; and the entire production team has made a marvelous work; you are invited to be the true worshippers that good theatre allows, so I am saying to you again, don’t miss it.
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre