Friday, January 07, 2011

THEATER: Ameriville

Photo/Saddi Khali
[Part of the Under the Radar Festival]

"You have to know how other people live," posits Universes, the company behind Ameriville, shortly before they launch into a freewheeling, spoken-word, vignette-guided tour of America's woes. The short segments are generally funny, ranging from broad vaudeville jokes ("I was black like I ain't go no job type black") to parodies of infomercials ("Tired of Muslims, Christians, Eskimos? Get a gun!") to straight-up stand-up routines (on gentrification, "See, that's what they do, they come down from the Choke-a-Nigga-Out Foundation"), but there's a fair share of direct address, too: a homeless man stops polishing shoes long enough to state the obvious ("I don't take pride in this") and one person asks "If everybody leaves New Orleans, who's gonna bring it back?"

Given all the musical interludes (recitations of classic American songs, remade to signal a call-and-response vibe) the show begs for some of the careful editing that goes into similar work by The Civilians, or for a firmer foundation on which to riff off of, like that of The TEAM. Yes, there are issues with American policies regarding immigration, suicide in the military, and the stubbornness of an educational system that wants to ban discussion of evolution, but after spending the first third of the show in New Orleans, there simply isn't the room to adequately cover these topics. And though director Chay Yew tries, Amerivile misses out on resonance and falls prey to the emptiness of a litany of high-energy complaints and statistics. Instead of a substantive report from the front-lines, written in the common-speak of the people, it becomes a performance piece, and of the four-person ensemble (which inclues Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz, and Gamal A. Chasten), only William Ruiz, also known as Ninja, seems ready to carry that weight on his shoulders.

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