Friday, October 16, 2015

ArtsEmerson Presents "Mr. Joy" by Daniel Beaty - Featuring The Remarkable Tangela Large

Here is a classic good news - bad news offering.  The good news is that Daniel Beaty's play, "Mr. Joy," being presented as part of the current ArtsEmerson season is tremendous.  The bad news is that the remaining performances through the end of this weekend are sold out.  There is a ray of hope. This announcement is taken from the ArtsEmerson website:

Mr. Joy performances are appearing as SOLD OUT. However, tickets may become available! Tickets are frequently returned or exchanged for other performances, so check back later.  Additionally, on the day of a given performance, a waitlist will be started at the Emerson/Paramount Center one hour prior to each curtain and any available tickets will be released for sale beginning a fifteen minutes prior to curtain to the people on the wait list. You must be in person at the Box Office to be placed on the waitlist and when your name is called.**

Why is the show selling out every performance?  Elementary, my dear Watson.  It is terrific theater that touches the soul and challenges the mind.  The play is lovingly crafted by Mr. Beaty to reflect a microcosm of a neighborhood in Harlem that includes African-American residents and some Asian, including old Mr. Joy, who has kept a shoe repair shop in the same location for 30 years.

The play opens with a young girl, Mr. Joy's assistant and protege, bewildered that he has not appeared to open the shop.  On the stoop in front of the shop we see a collection of shoes and flowers. We learn through a variety of characters that Mr. Joy had been robbed and beaten and lies in a coma in the hospital.  As the actions continues, we meet a cavalcade of characters, representing the full spectrum of the neighborhood denizens:

  • Mr. Joy's daughter
  • The little girl, whose parents have died of AIDS
  • Her grandmother
  • A successful African-American real estate developer who is a Republican and who has a transgendered son/daughter from whom he is estranged.
  • The developer's child, formerly known as Austin, now known as Ashes
  • The developer's white girlfriend who is trying to have a baby through artificial insemination
  • Two young gang members, one of whom is Mr. Joy's assailant
  • A street person who once once been a successful Revolutionary Artist with a pet snake
Each of these colorful characters is portrayed by the transcendent Tangela Large.  To borrow a riff from her name, in dispensing talent  Someone must have decided to Super Size her portion.  She creates these nine perfectly differentiated characters and draws on emotions that range from pious to bewildered to lost to defiant to enraged.  I do not believe I was the only one in the audience moved to tears by this bravura performance.

Tangela Large
"Mr. Joy" by Daniel Beaty
PAramount Black Box
Through October 18th

The playwright's philosophy is articulated by the grandmother, who is organizin a gang of Grannys to combat violence in the neighborhood. "It is not enough to just pray; we have to take some action.." Mr. Beaty, ArtsEmerson, the project entitled I Dream: Boston all aim to move community members to take action to address the myriad issues that the play illuminates.  Throughout the play, Mr. Beaty uses familiar racial stereotypes and then delights in destroying those stereotypes.  A Black Republican, other than Ben Carson? Why not?

The concept of presenting this piece is that the play itself is Part One of a series of initiatives.  Part Two is immediate audience feedback and discussion with the creative team behind "Mr. Joy." Part Three is an ongoing Call To Action.

I was intrigued by the creative process.  I will seize a moment from the play as a metaphor for that process.  At one point, the character who is awaiting insemination is carrying a thermos bag containing frozen sperm.  In the creation of this play, I see Mr. Beaty as having provided the seed in the form of the concept and the script.  Ms. Large offers up the ova of her creativity and talent to be fertilized by the playwright's seminal words.  And Director David Dower and his team and his performance space create a womb and an incubator in which the embryonic characters can develop, be nurtured , emerge from the womb and present themselves to the world.

If you have the opportunity to snag a ticket to one of this weekend' performances, I think you will see what I mean.  If not, take heart.  Mr. Beaty has one more year left in his three year residency with ArtsEmerson.  We have not heard the last of his voice in Boston.  And that is a source of great Joy!



No comments: