nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
January 8, 2011
Two wooden tables, four wooden chairs, a wooden floor like a raft, a deck or a roof, and a screen of a wooden pattern can be all that four incendiary writer-performers (Gamal Abdel Chasten, Mildred Ruiz, William Ruiz, and Steven Sapp) need when they have such powerful words, voices, and presence.
Ameriville is a unique show mixing poetry, movement, and video to build awareness about the many things going wrong in our global society. The dramatic frame is Hurricane Katrina and its devastating effects on the people of New Orleans, but the scope of the piece is much broader.
Crisply directed by the playwright Chay Yew, benefiting from the experience of a sophisticated dramaturg like Morgan Jenness, Ameriville is a highly charged and energetic political (variety) show infused with hip-hop vibrancy, addressing major social issues such as : race/class, hate crimes, immigration, war, homelessness, health reform, post-Katrina confusion and chaos, etc.
The structure of this unique production alternates ensemble songs and movement with mini solo pieces. The performers take turns in climbing on the top of the tables and chairs to tell/sing us a story about underdogs or a poem that offers the big picture on an issue.
However, “enjoyable” might be the perfect word describing this show despite its serious socio-political agenda. I particularly enjoyed the slam poem about hate crimes, consisting of a witty and darkly humored list of groups and sub-groups’ reasons for hating each other, from the ethnic and racial misunderstandings and historical discontents to “fat people” hating thin people because they look better, and thin people hating fat people because they can eat what they want… The randomness of hating The Other is effectively exposed through spoken word and irony.
As for the mix of musical genres, the range is impressive: blues, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, flamenco, even a sarcastic rendition of The Sound of Music's “My Favorite Things.” The story interpreted in Spanish by the amazing Mildred Ruiz through a flamenco dance and song is especially touching and haunting: a Latina immigrant working two jobs—as a maid in a hotel and in a button factory—only gets to see her daughter sleeping at night. She has dreams of playing with her daughter and having a decent life, but wakes up and has to wear the maid uniform again.
Ameriville is a show that deserves to be seen everywhere. It brings a unique awareness of the many injustices that happen daily around the country in a direct, vibrant, electric way through inspired spoken words and contagious movement and songs.
Among the very diverse and imaginative productions included in the wonderful Under the Radar Festival, this is another one not to be missed.