The best part of Daniel Beaty’s solo drama Emergence-SEE isn’t Daniel Beaty but the magnificent set that the actor spends 90 minutes bouncing around like a piece of thespian Silly Putty. Onstage, several wooden beams representing the masts of a slave ship stand askew. Around them, large pieces of jagged glass form a sloping mountain, as if the ship were breaking through the ocean surface, water cascading everywhere as it rises from its grave. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has created a violent and haunting sculpture that doubles as a multi-tiered performance platform.
Inhabiting this monumental wreckage are 40 contemporary African Americans, each one acted by Beaty. There’s a TV reporter, a grandmother, a gay teenager, a Republican, and a thug who isn’t sure what to make of this “Amistad shit.” Beaty, a Def Poetry alumnus, throws a few slam sessions into the mix. The results are impressively hectic but much too scattered to cohere dramatically. This polyphonic aria could use some of Anna Deaveare Smith’s political intelligence or some of the tough humanism in Sarah Jones’s Bridge and Tunnel. Beaty is energetic and likable, but he seems more interested in impressing you with his versatility than untangling the knot of history and race. His one-man democracy is a congenial, warmhearted republic of few ideas.