When PlayMakers Rep last brought Universes, an astounding alternative theater group from the South Bronx, to their PRC2 series in 2010, their performed (and published) retro-spectacle The Big Bang showcased 13 years of urban spoken word opera. It was a complex, compelling braid of slam and classical poetry, a cappella music, human percussion and story, delineating the struggles of everyday people. Employing a verbal form of musical counterpoint (and some seriously nondigital multitracking), Mildred Ruiz, Steven Sapp and their friends wove narratives, lyrics and broken polyrhythms into a tapestry of threads that included Gil Scott-Heron, T.S. Eliot, Tom Waits and Nuyorican poet Reg E. Gaines.
They've been busy since, touring Ameriville, their paean to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Last fall, they debuted Party People, a three-year examination of the legacy of the Black Panthers and Puerto Rican Young Lords at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Tonight, we see the world premiere of a commissioned work in conjunction with—what else?—The Rite of Spring, Carolina Performing Arts' current idee fixe. We're told the group will use The Rite to investigate rites of passage and create a "21st-century soundtrack on ritual and revolution." —Byron Woods