Breaking Bounds

January 14, 2020
Natalie Hulla

Universes is an award-winning, multi-cultural performance ensemble that breaks traditional theatrical bounds to create its own brand of live storytelling. They innovatively fuse theatre, poetry, dance, jazz, politics, hip-hop, Spanish boleros and down-home blues to craft stimulating and entertaining productions unlike many theatre companies performing today. The ensemble originated in The Bronx in 1995, and their artistic origins were inspired by the urban music and poetry scene that took over New York City in the ‘90s. Their newest production, americUS, is a compelling theatrical collage of contemporary America, and it makes its world premiere in the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theatre.

With national and international touring credits, Universes has been praised by critics for their singular and unforgettable performance style. Take a look at some of the acclaimed works Universes has created.

UNISON
UNISON is a modern-day drama about collective memory and legacy that exclusively features the poetry of legendary playwright August Wilson. Through original music and movement, alongside Wilson’s poetry, UNISON tells the story of a dying poet who bequeaths his apprentice a secret box that they’re instructed to destroy. But the apprentice gives in to their curiosity and opens the box, releasing the terrors and demons that afflicted the poet all his life.

“This is theater of the highest caliber that does not play it safe. … In the hands of this group of exceptional artists, UNISON is a raw and soulful triumph full of creativity and poignancy.” — Siskiyou Daily

Party People
Inspired by social revolutionaries of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Party People finds two young men debuting a video at an art gallery about the era’s most influential activist groups. At the gallery opening, they find themselves reuniting with original members of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords Party/Org, and what unfolds is a challenging and complex narrative about what revolution means through both historical and contemporary lenses. Party People is based on dozens of interviews from original activists from both parties.

“Fast, confrontational, reflective by turns, and packed with music and dance as propulsive as the years when the groups were spawned… Volatile, fiery choreography and spirit-moving blues, jazz, work-song and Latino songs… A well-deserved, prolonged standing ovation… Power to the people, indeed!” — San Francisco Chronicle

Ameriville
Ameriville takes place in New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The show reflects personal stories about surviving the storm (and the storm’s aftermath) that the ensemble collected through interviews with local artists and community members in the region. Through poetry, original music and dance, the show is a challenging artistic critique of a “culture of fear” that’s gripped America since its founding.

“An effervescent, racially mixed group who call themselves Universes... are as likely to kick some poetry as break out into a capella singing, to orchestrate a vocal exercise as they are to burst into a step show. ... Their energy and realness is unmatchable.” — The Village Voice

Slanguage
Borrowing from personal experiences, Slanguage is an artistic portrait about life on the American streets. This five-person show is built around a subway ride from Brooklyn to the Bronx and uses poetry, rap, gospel, jazz, the blues and Spanish boleros to tell an innovative tale that is uniquely New York. Slanguage balances moments of humor with dramatic truth-telling to render an ultimately hopeful story about the contemporary urban landscape.

“For what these brilliant wordsmiths really do — and do with the kind of verbal and musical facility old Bill Shakespeare engaged in when modern English itself was in its earliest stages of development — is nothing short of reinventing the multiplicity of mother tongues in which they negotiate their world on a daily basis.” — Chicago Sun-Times


To learn more about the Playhouse's world premiere production of americUS, visit our production detail page. Universes’ body of work and artistic perspective, visit universesonstage.com.

Pictured at top: Asia Mark, Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Gamal Abdel Chasten.

To explore more about the Playhouse, return to the main blog page.