Universes at Edison April 15 and 16

Ameriville Unplugged revisits post-Katrina New Orleans

Cutting-edge poetry collective Universes will return to the Edison Ovations Series April 15 and 16 with Ameriville Unplugged, an homage to post-Katrina New Orleans. Download hires image.

Remember Hurricane Katrina?

In the five years since the storm struck — overwhelming levees, killing hundreds and putting 80 percent of New Orleans under water — the terrible images have receded from headlines and popular memory.

Yet lives remain broken in the hurricane’s wake. Later this month, cutting-edge poetry collective Universes will return to the Edison Ovations Series at Washington University with Ameriville Unplugged, a furious homage to “The Queen of the South” as well as an impassioned testimony to her struggles and resiliency.

Performances will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16. Tickets are $35; $30 seniors; $25 for Washington University faculty and staff; and $20 for students and children.

Tickets are available at the Edison Box Office and through all MetroTix outlets. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

For more information, call (314) 935-6543 or email edison@wustl.edu.


Like Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam or the Nuyorican Poets Café, Universes arose from New York’s vibrant (and fiercely competitive) spoken-word scene.

Each member already was well-known as a solo artist when, in 1998, the group began performing together at major venues such as PS 122 and the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Public Theatre.

The following year, Universes began collaborating with Obie Award-winning director Jo Bonney and, in 2002, debuted Slanguage, a multidisciplinary tour-de-force loosely organized around a subway ride from Brooklyn to the Bronx.

In 2005, Universes was developing a project exploring fear in America when the hurricane reached the Gulf Coast. The group responded with a series of short pieces about the unfolding disaster, later meeting with survivors and even traveling to New Orleans to interview residents, artists and community leaders.

Universes. Download hires image.


The result is not just a sharp-eyed — and sharp-tongued — portrait of “The Crescent City” but also a picture of America as a sprawling yet deeply interconnected village.

Entering a bare stage from four different directions, the boisterous quartet of writer/performers — Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz, Gamal Chasten and Ninja (aka William Ruiz) — remain in almost constant motion, trading songs and stories in forceful cadences recalling the rhythms of jazz, hip-hop, down home blues and sidewalk preachers.

It’s a dense tapestry, woven with indelible characters: the voodoo queen, the hapless tourist, the lost boy, the shameless opportunist, and the barbershop old-timers who claim to have seen it all and probably have.

At the same time, this fiery “State of the Union” address turns its gaze outwards from New Orleans, using the aftermath of Katrina as a lens through which to examine national attitudes about race, poverty, politics, government and patriotism.

“Whether you like it or not,” warns one actor, “there’s a Katrina brewing in your neighborhood.”

Or, as another intones, voice rising over an insistent a cappella chorus:

“So here we all are, a work still in progress, a by-product of genius and insanity, love and insecurity, with a chance to write a new chapter to the greatest story ever told, borrowed and sold.

“So let’s take that long, painful journey together.

“Welcome to Ameriville.”

Edison Ovations Series

Founded in 1973, the Edison Ovations Series serves both Washington University and the St. Louis community by providing the highest caliber national and international artists in music, dance and theater, performing new works as well as innovative interpretations of classical material not otherwise seen in St. Louis.

Edison Theatre programs are made possible with support from the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency; the Regional Arts Commission, St. Louis; and private contributors. The Ovations season is supported by The Mid-America Arts Alliance with generous underwriting by the National Endowment for the Arts and foundations, corporations and individuals throughout Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Calendar Summary

WHO: Universes

WHAT: Ameriville Unplugged

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16

WHERE: Edison Theatre, Washington University, Mallinckrodt Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd.

TICKETS: $35; $30 for seniors and WUSTL faculty and staff; $25 for students and children. Available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, (314) 935-6543, and all MetroTix outlets.

SPONSOR: Edison Ovations Series

INFORMATION: (314) 935-6543 or edisontheatre.wustl.edu