The 2013-14 season kicked off with the world premiere of “The Tallest Tree in the Forest,” a new work about the life of African-American performer and activist Paul Robeson.
Paul Robeson (1898-1976) was a twentieth-century Renaissance Man. He was a genius who had a flair for the arts while also being incredibly academically smart.
He graduated with honors from Rutgers University in 1919 and Columbia Law School in 1923. Finding few opportunities for blacks in the legal profession, Robeson joined a New York theatre group where he befriended playwright Eugene O’Neill and appeared in his plays All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924) and The Emperor Jones (1924 in New York, 1925 in London and the 1933 film). His other acclaimed acting roles include Othello (1930 in London and 1943 in New York) and the hit musical Show Boat.
Robeson was also a passionate and frequently controversial advocate for social justice in the U.S. and worldwide. As a result of his criticism of the U.S. government and his affiliation with communism, he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era.
Daniel Beaty, the writer of the play, took on the monumental task of starring in this play. On a dynamic set that uses both simple elements and technology to enhance the storytelling, he’s one man with many voices. With shifts in pitch and body language, Beaty portrays many men and women who played significant roles in Robeson’s life.
The difficulty of memorizing nearly two hours of lines, performing back and forth dialogue with oneself and maintaining a distinction between each character is not to be underestimated. To top it all off, Beaty also performs many of Robeson’s signature songs including “Ol’ Man River,” “Steal Away” and “Ballad for the Americans.” Beaty’s voice is strong and clear, perfect for these soulful tunes.
He is truly an exceptional artist and Kansas City is lucky to have him part of the Rep’s season. He comes to the Rep as an award-winning actor. Two of his solo works have received critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway runs: Through the Night (2006) and Emergency (2007, Obie Award for Excellence). He holds a B.A. with Honors in English and Music from Yale University and an M.F.A. in Acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
“The Tallest Tree in the Forest”runs through Sept. 28 at Copaken Stage located at 13th and Walnut Streets in Kansas City, MO. For ticket and performance information, call the Rep Box Office at 816-235-2700 or visit http://www.kcrep.org.