review: [under the radar] ameriville

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Ameriville

Written, Created, and performed by UNIVERSES
Directed and Developed by Chay Yew
Featuring Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz, Gamal A. Chasten, William Ruiz
Under the Radar Festival
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
production web site: http://www.undertheradarfestival.com/index.php?p=223

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
January 6, 2011

Steven Sapp, William Ruiz, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Gamal Abdel Chasten (photos by Sado Khali)

I am late to the party of the wonders of the group UNIVERSES and this piece they have been honing for some time called Ameriville.  Ballads, syncopated rhythms, four actors on a simple stage and set pieces (design by Brian Sidney Bembridge), choreographed (by Millicent Johnnie) along with their movements and projected images (by Brian Freeland) in the columned splendor of the upstairs Anspacher space at the Public Theater.  The power of the unaccompanied voices (save stomped and thumped syncopation the actors provide themselves) literally, numerous times during this 90 minute romp through American life, took my break away.

This is a collection of stories bound by rhythms and movement.  Some stories are told by one of the four actors, some are told in pairs, in characters out of the American cultural quilt.  Mildred Ruiz creates a woman of New Orleans crafting stories to please the tourists.  “Just a little white lie for little white folk who want to help the economy.”  One story is told as a stand up routine at a microphone, about gentrification and the squeeze put on current residents, the refrain “choke a nigger out” of his land, his home.  A story riff on hate, focusing on body type independent of race, creed or color.  “Skinny people hate fat people because fat people eat what the fuck they want.”  Story of a single mother from New Orleans who enlisted after 9/11 who was judged for leaving her family to serve her country and had nothing to which to return.  “I am a category five soldier who lost everything along the way” she says.  Health insurance is captured in syncopated dialog as a kind of vaudeville show.  And a refrain through the entire show speaks to Katrina and the rising tide: “How high is the water Mama?” and the numbers grow.

There is power in individual voices (I have become a fan of the jazz and blues in Mildred Ruiz’s voice) and stunning impact in their combined efforts here.  Young talents, powerful stories, important piece to experience.

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 10, 2011)

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