Live from the Edge

At Long Wharf

By: - May 12, 2023

Long Wharf, which is trying to recreate itself, is presenting something that runs more than a few days.

Live from the Edge by Universes has moments that will reach you emotionally. But the question remains, “What is it?” – Theater? A performance piece? A poetry slam?  They describe themselves as a theater company, but I would describe it as being closer to a performance piece/poetry slam than theater.

The five performers, who have been working together for 20+ years, smoothly combine rap, modern hip-hop-influenced poetry, movement, and music. They are certainly talented.

What they create is energetic even though the five are behind music stands and stand-up mics. They are constantly moving with choreography that is both casual and rehearsed. At times drums and some other music, which appears to be prerecorded, add to the performance.

Their works focus on the urban environment and the experiences of people of color.

Each of the five performers has moments to shine, though Mildred Ruiz-Sapp and Steven Sapp play larger roles.

They are certainly talented and professional. The opening was one of the highlights of the show. Perhaps to get us into the mood of the evening, Steven Sapp performs a rap based on the alphabet. He begins with speaking the alphabet in a rhythmic pattern, putting in pauses; he then goes through the alphabet, letter by letter, with an assortment of marvelous words for each letter which somehow also make a point.

Later in the show, I was moved by Nate John Mark’s piece about incarceration. Asia Mark presents a piece, “Does Anyone Want to Hear My Song” about being a subway platform musician. One of the funnier pieces was about the fact that people say “right” too much. It makes the point that it has lost all meaning. It was performed with great humor by Nsangou Njikam.

But I was left with questions and complaints.

Why did Long Wharf, with, I assume, the agreement of the performers, select Space Ballroom.? It looks like a ‘50s Greenwich Village beat-poet bar. It just feels dingy and dark even in the lobby. After parking – and I needed GPS to get there, I had to look for the entrance. It was not clearly indicated.

Be prepared for uncomfortable rental chairs. As one of the audience members commented, Long Wharf had in the last years refurbished their theater with more leg space and new, more comfortable seating. But now the audience is on folding chairs, zip-tied together, leaving little space between people. The chair backs were not human-back-friendly.  He had planned ahead and brought a pillow.

It’s a small venue, perhaps seating 150; the night I saw it, a preview performance, it was only a third full.

Sound levels. It is never good when your smartwatch constantly tells you that it is “loud” – over 90 decibels and exposure for 30 minutes can lead to temporary hearing loss. Why can’t the sound be turned down?

While I had multiple complaints most dealt with venue issues, not with the substance of the piece or the performances. Hopefully, some of these venue issues can be fixed quickly.

Long Wharf is trying to reach a new audience. Will it work? Will it turn off its established audience base?  Only time will tell. The night I saw the show, the audience was about equally divided between people who were probably long-time Long Wharf audience members and some younger people.

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Long Wharf Theater