Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Pike St.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule


Nilaja Sun
Photo by Teresa Castracane
Nilaja Sun is one of the rare writer-performers who can create a (small) universe of believable characters and bring them to individual life through shifts in posture, vocal timbre, and facial expression. In Pike St., now at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Sun conjures a multi-ethnic neighborhood in New York's Lower East Side whose people face both internal and external challenges, under the empathetic and detail-oriented direction of Ron Russell.

As the audience enters, Sun is seated in the single chair on Meghan Raham's floating platform of a set (Tyler Micoleau's lighting design and Russell's sound design help the audience see each location). Her arms are locked together, her eyes seem focused inward, and sometimes she makes small shivering moves. This is 15-year-old Candi, a bright and extroverted girl until she suffered a brain aneurysm three years earlier. She is now housebound, hooked up to a dialysis machine and a ventilator, in the Pike Street apartment she shares with her mother and grandfather. The other characters don't know how much Candi understands, but Sun shows glimpses of her perceptions to the audience.

The time is the present, as a fictional "Hurricane Dolores" is about to strike New York City. (Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused widespread destruction in low-lying parts of the city, trapping Lower Manhattan residents without electricity or running water for days and flooding subway stations and tracks.) Candi's mother Evelyn—who left her job to care for the girl—has a backup generator ready to go, but can't get any answers from the electric company about its plans for the storm.

However, that situation is only the beginning. Sun offers three-dimensional snapshots of neighborhood characters including Evelyn's swaggering father, who moved to the city from Puerto Rico as a young man, claiming his space with a wide-legged walk; Evelyn's brother Manny, a Navy SEAL recently returned from Afghanistan with a medal and a lot of uncertainty; the Arab shopkeeper on the corner; and an elderly Jewish neighbor who lives downstairs and isn't quite sure what year it is.

Sun's characters are all searching for peace and healing, whether through Evelyn's ritual of deep, cleansing breaths, her late mother's knowledge of herbal and psychic cures for disease, or through the coping mechanisms of alcohol, pot and sex. None of them is perfect, but they all deserve the empathy and tenderness shown them by their creator.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Pike St.
March 27th - April 23rd, 2017
Written and performed by Nilaja Sun
Directed by Ron Russell
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


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