Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: Revolution Room

By Michael Block

Some theater is meant for entertainment. Some theater is created to make a statement. And then there is Party People in which Universes try to do all of the above. The Universes production presented at The Public has so much to say yet the clarity isn't quite right, thusly altering the overall success of the show.
Written by Universes, comprised of Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz-Sapp, and William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja, and composed by Universes with Broken Chord, Party People is a powerful and provocative piece of art about art and activism spanning generations.  Malik “MK Ultra” and Jimmy “Primo” set up a private art gallery to celebrate an evening of fine and performance art of political fights. The room is filled with former participants of the Black Panthers and Young Lords who happen to use this moment to let the skeletons fall out of the closet and air their dirty laundry. It’s an homage to the grass roots fight on the ground from the Millennials bringing the battle on the web. With an electronic score infused with rock, jazz, and hip hop and more, Party People is more of an idea than a well made theatrical story. Universes and director and developer Liesl Tommy would have been better served to allow the story unfold rather than hammer a message in. When it does breath, Party People is at its best. With the tiniest of glimpses in character explored, if you're searching for arcs, you won't find them here. The characters are representations of something greater than themselves. And in a way, they're not as rich as they should be. We learn very little about the individuals and thus, you may find it hard to care about them singularly. This may be due to the fact that it takes quite a bit time to reach any semblance of story. What we do learn is that these individuals may be fractured but they don’t regret the past. Nevertheless, the pulverizing message of keeping up the fight for a long-term battle is on everybody’s minds. As energetic and lively as the piece is, it doesn't always have the ability to connect or engage. There is a rich history within the Black Panthers and Young Lords. Whether you know it or not, Universes avoids any semblance of a history lesson opting for a more personalized interpretation. While no one really wants to watch a live history lesson, perhaps a marriage of the two could have connected the worlds.
photo by Joan Marcus
Liesl Tommy kept Party People tightly staged and intricately planned. It was a very well-oiled machine. That being said, the three-quarter thrust hindered Tommy’s stage pictures as she kept the majority for a proscenium portrait. The use of the live feeds were quite engaging. Though the placement in the space assisted viewing for those sitting on the sides. Millicent Johnnie’s choreography was organized chaos, which was fitting for the overall narrative. The underground art space designed by Marcus Doshi didn’t read automatically but the text helped you get there. The loft allowed for varied staging but caused massive shadows for Doshi’s lighting design. The most prevalent image on stage was the “Revolution” light sign. Doshi lit the bulbs almost as a default in every song. Between going in letter order to keeping them in groups, it was inevitable that the sign was going to be in every number. And it was a bit boring.
Whether Party People hit you or not, this ensemble carried the weight of the world on their shoulders. They worked wondrously as a unit, though there were shining stars, starting with Christopher Livingston. As Malik “MK Ultra,” Livingston’s alluring determination and drive captured the essence of the show. Opposite him, William Ruiz a.k.a. Ninja’s Jimmy “Primo” lacked reality causing his character to feel like a living cartoon, even when he wasn’t in clown mode. As Clara, Gizel Jimenez had a natural purity as the modern voice of reason. When it came to booming voices, Ramona Keller and Mildred Ruiz-Sapp reigned supreme. While Keller’s Amira felt like nothing more than an accessory, it was her voice that brought the house down. Ruiz-Sapp had a little more character substance thanks to her familiar bond with Clara.
There is a profound purpose of presenting Party People now. It has the dominance to light a spark. But there was something off with Party People. With disconnect and lack of cohesion, Party People is not as strong as it can be.

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