Excerpts of several original plays, Live from the Edge, brought out the varied traits of Bronx-based performance group Universes. A family affair (the lone woman in the four-person group is sister to one member and wife to another), they exhibited elements of a slam poetry competition, a step show, a comedy, a musical, and a play all rolled into one remarkable evening.
After a pre-curtain lecture (for which Portland Ovations hired me), the mid-30s to mid-40s aged group took the audience through varied places (New York streets, a nightclub, a church, a New Orleans barbershop) with a series of characters, song and dance. Pulling no punches topically, Universes took on "tragedy monger" bleeding-heart liberals, absurd prejudices, and drug addiction (among other social issues) with an approach that is both humorous and intelligent and completely lacking in self-righteousness.
Musically, they wove traditional blues hymns, Annie Lennox lyrics, and the familiar alphabet melody with snapping, stomping, beat-boxing, dance, vocal harmonies, and wordplay — often simultaneously. Despite vocal overlaps, the chaos is organized, clearly honed in 15 years of performing, and most evident when all four varying vocal parts stop on a dime.
Their confidence shows in their playfulness, too, as when one vocalist, Sap, took a moment to call out a group of latecomers — leaving everyone (including the latecomers) in hysterics. They've mastered the art interactivity without discomfort. By the end, it felt less like a performance than a really powerful discussion with a group of friends — and that there is somehow a resolution to all that was stirred up in the two hours you shared.