By Walter Rutledge
Tearing Down the Walls is a new musical by Daniel Beaty. The production began a limited run at The Riverside Theatre on May 12th and will run until May 29th. This ensemble work for six performers is a step forward for the director, playwright, lyricist and co-composer Beaty, who in the past has starred in his own solo performer works.
In Beaty’s last two solo productions Emergence See and Into The Night his forte has been his ability to establish characters and to masterfully develop their relationships right before our eyes. As the director of Tearing Downs the Walls he is able to imbue his cast with this ability.
The characters reach across the footlights engaging and disarming the audience. This builds an almost immediate bond between the performer and audience, which proves to be a strong, winning attribute for the production. The three central characters; the repressed Renee, man beating Rhonda and promiscuous Jessica played by Umi Shakti, Dietrice A. Bolden, and Kelechi Ezie share their experiences with humor, candor, and pathos.
Jevon McFerrin as Dennis the “good guy” is nerdishly appealing, over the course of the play he develops into the romantic lead. Rumando Kelly (Tyson) is the “bad boy” everyone can’t help but want. They both are supportive characters but a great deal of the production rest on their capable shoulders.
Adrienne C. Moore in the role of the Angel Unaware steals the show! As the Angel sent to Harlem to guide Renee she convincingly embodies four other characters. Moore comes the closest to Beaty’s style of transforming into an array of characters; each distinctly different, and theatrically believable and defined.
Beaty addresses issues that have been a concern of the African American Community since the days of Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DeBois. The idea of self- determination, ownership and pride in the community, are aggressively addressed. He also deals with subject matter that is socially prevalent including child abuse, domestic violence, HIV, and self-respect.
This is all accomplished initially through a great deal of humor and light-hearted banter. One of the best devises was repeating Tyson’s seduction/ pick up lines and song for each seduction. This simple, and humorous approach was extremely effective in establish him as a true cad. When the mood turned serious the audience eagerly followed; in fact the audience were pulled in and became part of the action, and reaction.
To Beaty’s credit he was able to seize the moment. He kept the audience on the edge of their seats with first-rate storytelling, producing a witty, poignant urban tale. Tearing Down the Walls has a message of building up hope, which is a message we all can benefit from.
Photo credit: 1. Umi Shakti and Kelechi Ezie; 2. Jevon McFerrin; 3. Rumando Kelly.
Video 1 & 2 Adewale Adekanbi
Video # 3 Courtesy of Daniel Beaty Productions