Saturday, April 08, 2017

"Pike St." Enthralling

This was my first visit to the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company in DC. The theater is located just off of D Street near Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House--and it does my soul good to know that just steps away from the most partisan and incompetent regime to ever occupy the seats of power in this nation, there is beauty and creativity and art and theater--AMAZING theater.
 The moment I arrived at the Navy Memorial metro station, the poster for the show was there. And save for the face of the woman in the bathtub, I had no idea what the play was about. I like to go in cold.
The theater is located a short block and half from the metro (definite plus for future reference), and it's humble exterior gives way to a funky post-modernist/post-industrial vibed-out lobby and foyer. Generously volumed music accompanied my early arrival and wait that went from Motown to Bollywood to Rap to Klezmer...a foretaste of the glories to come.

The show is about a family of Puerto Rican immigrants and first generation siblings and a granddaughter. The father is a rum swilling, whore mongering widower with a son who is just back from the war in Afghanistan where he was awarded a silver star for valor and is left with PTSS delusions and psychotic flashbacks and a daughter who is learning to become a holistic healer in the aftermath of her own daughters brain aneurism and physically-contorted nearly catatonic state of existence. Toss in an elderly Jewish neighbor with early onset Alzheimer's and the son's Korean/African American bi-racial pot-smoking best friend and you nearly have a cast, but wait, there's more. There's also the Yemeni corner grocer whose sons have all returned to Yemen post 9/11 and is just trying to survive in the face of Islamophobia. Okay, we still need a plausible location so enter Pike St. in Brooklyn, and a high-rise with a broken elevator. The formula's nearly complete. We just need a catalyst to weave all the moments together with urgency--What better? Hurricane Dolores is bearing down on the city with the promise to make Hurricane Sandy look like a summer shower. Whew!

All of this sounds like the details of an interesting play. But this is NOT an interesting play, because all of it comes to life with tremendous clarity and compassion at the hands of one actor. Nilaja Sun transforms her beautifully androgynous self into each of these characters with a power nothing short of magic! I cannot do what I experienced tonight justice with words. It's just not possible. I can borrow a phrase or two from the director's notes in the program that comes close:

"She gives her body and her mind over to the essential humanity of each character, and each appears as a flesh-and-blood human. Watching Nilaja perform, we're dazzled by her technical skill at transforming from one character to the next, but ultimately we're moved by the deep sense of empathy she has for each one." Amen!

The production included an art exhibition in the foyer of three paintings by Melinda Montilla Nickerson. One was used in the posters and playbill cover.

Overall, I was utterly enthralled by this production and performance. When I compare this with the other one-actor production I saw this season, "The Year of Magical Thinking" performed by Kathleen Turner at Arena Stage, there is no comparison. Turner's performance was boring, nay tedious, and this was transformative and enlightening. My DC friends, this is one well worth the price of admission!

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