BWW Review: AMERICUS Stirs Hearts and Minds at Cincinnati Playhouse In The Park
It's 2020, and if you look around at what's happening in our world, more specifically our country, you might agree with me that we are in desperate need of a wake-up call. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in collaboration with Universes is giving us one as "americUS" runs through March 8 in the Rosenthal Shelterhouse Theatre.
The world premiere play is essentially a living portrait of America as it is today, as told through vignettes of varying styles, including slam poetry, hip hop, pop-inspired music, circus and many more. Issues of gun violence, police brutality, social media and gentrification are covered over an hour and 40 minutes.
The performance ensemble, Universes, was approached and commissioned last year by the Playhouse to create this show with one task: bring to the stage what is happening in America now. This task was executed brilliantly. The co-founders of the ensemble, Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp created Universes as a group that hopes to "break theatrical bounds to create its own brand of storytelling."
Sapp and Ruiz-Sapp are joined onstage by Gamal Chasten and Asia Mark. Each performer speaks so from the heart that you forget you are watching a show. Each has a moment, sometimes more than one, where they bare their souls and express sincere vulnerability that had me tearing up, realizing that this is what people all around me are having to deal with on a daily basis.
While there are moments that are very hard pills to sit, watch, and swallow, this is a play that I wish I could make every single person in our country see. I haven't seen a show that hit me, made me think, and made me uncomfortable (in a good way) like "americUS" did in a long time.
Every single scene and word spoken is incredibly important and moving, but there are two that I can't seem to shake. There is a scene where Ruiz-Sapp is telling the story of an active shooter at her children's school, and simultaneously Mark is singing curled up in a ball across the stage. "I can't be superman when all I came here to do is learn, just learn." Not only did Mark's voice soar in a tone resembling that of Alicia Keys, but the message was unbelievably unsettling. We can't expect our children to go to school and be able to defend themselves when they are just children and are going there looking for a safe place to learn.
Another repeating vignette was Chasten's telling of living in a tent and continuing to be pushed out of his home. There's only so far he can move though. This begs to ask the question, there has to be an end to the gentrification at some point, right? Yet here we are.
This is why stories like these need to be told. We as a society need that wake-up call. We need to think. We need to have the reality hit us in the face. "americUS" is not to be overlooked and skipped over. Get to Playhouse in the Park before it closes March 8. For more information, visit https://cincyplay.com/productions/americus.