The title character Mr. Joy never appears in the one-man show that bears his name, but his presence is felt by every one of the multiple characters portrayed by Daniel Beaty, the actor and creator of “Mr. Joy.” A Chinese-American and the long-time proprietor of a shoe repair shop in Harlem, Mr. Joy has had an outsized impact on his neighbors and on the changing Harlem community. He is mysteriously absent from his shop, hospitalized because of an incident that is not revealed until late in the play. Meanwhile friends and customers leave their shoes outside the shop as tributes, prayers, and hopes for his recovery.
The characters Beaty creates include several parent-child combinations, starting with the founder of a new organization, the Grandma Gang, whose mission is to feed people delicious desserts, as well as her granddaughter, a young woman who has apprenticed herself to Mr. Joy and whose dream is to design shoes that give people what they’re missing from life. A successful African-American businessman who can’t accept his son’s decision to have a sex change and become his daughter, and the daughter who, after her heart is broken by a two-timing pastor, takes revenge by stealing a pair of Manolo Blahniks meant as a gift for his wife. A half-dozen other neighborhood characters take the stage as well, all of them fully imagined and brilliantly acted by the protean Beaty. The takeaway message, which is hammered home perhaps a bit too obviously, is that life is better when lived with a generous helping of faith.
“Mr. Joy” is a workshop production staged by LCT3 at the wonderful Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center. LCT3, so named because it is the third theater at Lincoln Center, is one of the best bargains in town. It is dedicated to producing the works of new artists and engaging new audiences. “Plus,” as the website breathlessly announces, “all seats are $20 all the time!”
The 119-seat-theater has to be the most beautifully situated performance space at Lincoln Center. It was built atop the much larger Vivian Beaumont Theater and its lobby opens onto a spacious terrace surrounded by a green roof. The lobby opens an hour before performances so it’s possible to picnic al fresco on the concession-stand offerings while taking in the stunning views across Lincoln Center Plaza.