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photo by Tim Fuller

Myani Watson (top), Richard "Chomps" Thompson (center) and To-Ree-Nee Wolf (front) create 40 different roles in "Emergency."

"Emergency” by Daniel Beaty is a cry for freedom, a plea for reason, set in a fanciful scenario among startled New Yorkers in pre-COVID times, panicked to see a slave ship rise up out of the harbor waters in front of the Statue of Liberty.

“Emergency” premiered in 2006 at the Public Theater in Manhattan. Beaty is a talent-driven actor, singer, writer and community activist who presented “Emergency” as an 85-minute solo performance with 40 different roles.

Susan Claassen, Invisible Theatre's managing artistic director, saw that production and has been trying to bring “Emergency” to Tucson ever since. Now here in IT's 50th anniversary season and the middle of Black History Month, “Emergency” is up and running through Feb. 20.

Claassen as producer and director has adapted the solo performance for a trio of Old Pueblo actors – To-Ree-Nee Wolf, Richard “Chomps” Thompson and Myani Watson – sharing all the roles and genders while wearing nearly identical black tops and slacks.

The differences in characters are easily identified by mannerisms, accents, props and, occasionally, by stylized masks. Beaty's concept is to create swirls of stories spinning by in quick takes filled with urgency and frustration. There is not a plot so much as there is a combined statement generated by the presence of a 19th century slave ship floating right beside the Statue of Liberty.

Like watching the blur of faces on a shuffled deck of playing cards, we see the instant take of many responses, some connected to the practice of slavery in New York's own slave markets, as well as others telling the modern stories of black people in today's metropolis, some of them financially successful and others not so successful, many from broken homes and troubled families all haunted by terrorized thoughts of police brutality.

These chains of slavery just as surely bind today's generations of black people even though slavery officially ended 157 years ago. That is Beaty's message, and he presents the vastness of these cultural separations by putting a very humanitarian face on each example.

Wolf has the widest range of historical figures and modern personalities to portray. Her range of emotions across both genders is mesmerizing. She disappears so completely into her roles it can seem like there must be more actors backstage somewhere waiting to make their entrances.

Watson flashing her bright smile and easy familiarity with today's gestures and youthful speech becomes perhaps the most poignant. She's bright, talented and joyful, eager to love life but finding instead, she has been born into a culture that keeps stacking one roadblock after another in her way.

Thompson is confident and smooth, absolutely penetrating as the polished gentleman with an accomplished “white” manner. In one scene he's a proud professional making $100,000 annually and driving a prestigious BMW luxury automobile. Then he gets stopped at night by a policeman who thinks he looks suspicious, a black man driving an expensive car after dark. That's when he snaps.

Beaty wants us to see there's never an end to these chains forged in time. Never a resolution. Invisible Theatre wants us to remember, too, and wonder what would really happen if a slave ship rose up into the present from out of our past.

“Emergency” continues through Feb. 20 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., with 7:30 performances Wednesdays through Saturdays; also a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Feb.19. The Sunday matinees are sold out. Reservations are required for all seats. COVID protocol is observed.

The running time is 90 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are $40, students $20. For reservations, ticket sales and full COVID policy, or 520-882-9721.

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