I remember March 18th, 2012 very clearly. It was by mere coincidence that I found myself in the Paramount Center Mainstage theatre that afternoon; do not the best things always happen coincidentally? The show was the final performance of Ameriville by UNIVERSES, and although I had heard from my peers that the show was “good,” no one had given me any more information than that.
I was blown away.
Having seen Aftermath at ArtsEmerson a year earlier, I hungered for another piece of theatre that not only entertains but shines a spotlight on human rights and social issues. As a woman of color I also hungered to see work by someone who looks like me—or at least speaks of things that relate to me. I felt that the theatre I’d been exposed to thus far in a predominantly white, private university in Boston, Massachusetts did not—for the most part—adequately discuss the topics of race, class, politics and ethnicity.
Therefore, I was taken aback and thoroughly pleased when Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz Sapp, Gamal Chasten and William Ruiz (aka Ninja), UNIVERSES’ founders, chanted, danced and sang their hearts out onstage in Ameriville. Set in New Orleans, the per capita murder rate capitol of the nation, the non-linear play took us through a range of issues that arose from Hurricane Katrina – issues that are not unique to New Orleans alone: poverty, homelessness, the economy, immigration, etc. The show struck me as a national anthem of sorts that beautifully communicates who we are and that charges the audience with the desire to rise above it.
The subject matter UNIVERSES deals with in Ameriville and their other works is pressing and highly relevant to modern society, but what is truly memorable and unique about them is their performance style. They describe themselves as “multi-disciplinary writers and performers who fuse poetry, theatre, jazz, hip-hop, politics, down home blues and Spanish boleros to create moving, challenging, and entertaining theatrical works.” The poetry, songs and movements are so naturally rhythmic that one forgets that it is a performance at all and is hypnotized. Most importantly, UNIVERSES infuses their work with incredible passion—passion so apparent that witnessing it moves audiences to tears.