Playwright Beaty has come up with a clever hook to hang his story on. A slave ship suddenly rises out of the Hudson River at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Beaty never quite explains how people know it's a slave ship, but how would it be ironic, appearing at Liberty Island, if it weren't full of slaves? People do somehow know it's a 400-year-old slave ship, and they flock to New York Harbor to see it. It becomes a huge media event, with a reporter providing narrative connections as we move through the story.
Beaty writes smartly and smoothly. But he pulls up familiar material to hang on his clever hook. He gives us celebrity culture, driving while black, an African-American Shakespeare scholar, the scholar's son the famous poet, the scholar's gay son, a bright couple of poorly educated black kids, a street person hustling for food, some sharp parody of slam poetry and some good poetry, a scholar of the history of slavery to take us through the usual tropes, a celebration of Egyptian culture but not of the civilizations of the parts of Africa the slaves on that ship and the ancestors of most African-Americans came from.
But if the material is familiar, Beaty keeps it bright and lively, and so even more do director Ron Himes and especially actor Ron Conner. Conner hits the nail on the head with each of some 20-odd characters, some seen briefly, some frequently enough to get fleshed out. Rarely does it take more than a second or two to recognize which character Conner is playing as he make his instantaneous switches among them. He has no trouble holding our attention and entertaining us, if only minimally enlightening us, during the hour "Emergency" runs. He's helped by Eric Cope's lighting design, Lakysha Williams' projection design, and Robin Weatherall's sound design.