Emergence-SEE! at Arena Stage

I’ve run though about a dozen openings to this review and rejected all of them for being insulting, inaccurate, or at the least damning with faint praise. None of those are fair, as Daniel Beaty achieves something worthwhile in Emergence-SEE! The problem for me – and perhaps it would not be one for you – is that this isn’t peanut butter and chocolate, two tastes that are great individually and even better together. This is more caviar and half smoke – two great tastes that just taste weird together.

Or to be more highbrow, Emergence-SEE is less than the sum of its parts. Beaty is clearly a talented writer with many voices. His thirty plus different characters (I didn’t count to verify the much-stated 43 number) include several performing poets, each of which has his or her own sound and tone. This is no small achievement, to write and be these people in the course of an hour. Over and over again I enjoyed six minutes at a time, and I’d be happy to hear some of them again.

As a whole, however, I found Beaty’s physical mannerisms off-putting. His extreme transitions among speaking and singing voices never bothered me, though I could have lived without several versions of the same lisping and verbal flouncing he uses for his two homosexual characters. His gestures and physical movements from character to character were all radically different and always very broad in scope. It’s a perfectly legitimate style choice, and perhaps well in keeping with the poetry slam roots of the piece, but I found myself constantly comparing it unfavorably to other one-man performers like John Leguizamo, whose transitions are much more subtle but indicate different characters just as unmistakably.

So if we cut to the chase of “should I go or not?” I’d say that if you think you would enjoy a one-hour poetry & song slam with an over-arching storyline to loosely tie it together, absolutely. As a play, one man or not, the work doesn’t tie together well enough to give it a firm thumbs up. There’s just too many vignettes that don’t tie together well enough to qualify it as a great play, though all the bits themselves are fin and well done.

But hey, the glory of the modern age is that you can find out for yourself how you like him. You can view video clips of his performance over on Daniel Beaty’s myspace page. Decide for yourself and if you like him, please go see the show. Our town could use more unusual theater and supporting it is the way to get more.

Emergence-SEE! runs at Arena Stage’s Kreeger Theater through July 22, 2007
Sundays through Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $38 to $50

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