Nilaja Sun-believable!

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Art decorating the lobby

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Art decorating the lobby

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People decorating the lobby

Today, I saw Woolly Mammoth’s new production of Pike St., written and performed by Nilaja Sun and directed by Ron Russell.

Let me start by saying that today was a Pay What You Can Preview. I love going to these previews, partially because it means I get to pay what I can, which is usually in the $10-$20 range, but also it means that if a play is good, I know it’ll get better. And if a play is not so good, I know it has time to mature and get better. Basically, I just enjoy seeing a play in its infant state: raw, un-practiced in front of a crowd.

I think it’s exciting to be one of the first to see the prolific run of a new show. And trust me when I say that this one-woman show will have a prolific run. It’s incredibly powerful.

Nilaja Sun, one performer, inhabits a whole immigrant-filled neighborhood, the Lower East Side of New York City, on a slanted stage, surrounded by candles.

In Pike St., a hurricane is hurtling towards New York, and the Puerto Rican tenants of a building are attempting to prepare and protect themselves, including the youngest of them, a 15-year-old girl, Candi, with an unknown illness which has made it so she can’t speak, walk, or breath on her own. Her young mother, Evelyn, attempts to heal her with her particular brand of Catholicism, mysticism, and oppressive optimism. The abuelo, the “man of the house” is booze-guzzling, sex-crazed, crotchety man, while Evelyn’s brother, Manny, is a decorated Marine, the pride of his family, struggling with PTSD and coming back to his home to find it different than when he left. Sun truly brings every character into stark relief. At the end of the day, it’s a play about unique characters in an extreme circumstance, dealing with the remnants of their pasts.

Sun transitions between the characters with ease, but also with an imprecision. I don’t mean that as a bad thing. I believe the messiness and sometimes blurring of two characters accurately represents their lives and their neighborhood. However, I was never at a loss for understanding. Sun always made sure the audience knew exactly what was happening. It was truly a feat.

Sun’s costume, designed by Clint Ramos, was a simple blue button-up shirt and red pants. And yet, every character fit within those clothes because Sun’s posture and her movement brought them to life. The sound design, by Ron Russell, and the lighting design, by Tyler Micoleau, also contributed to the tone and tempo of the piece.

The play was punctuated with views from within Candi’s mind. We saw what she looked like on the outside and also how she saw herself from the inside. This juxtaposition really showed the incongruity in the Lower East Side and the people who populate it. How they are seen vs. how they really are, how they see themselves. Regardless, it was truly magical to step inside Candi’s mind, only to be jerked out of it and back into a park or apartment or neighborhood store.

I was one of the first to stand up at the end to give it a standing ovation, so I’m giving this one a 9/10. It was poignant, beautiful, melancholy, and impressive.


Now, if you’re still with me, I want to give a small ~fun~ little aside. I went by myself to this show, so this meant I noticed my surroundings maybe a little more than I would have. Also, I wasn’t sitting next to someone I knew, someone who I might could count on to be a respectful human being.

Ok, so as I was walking into the theater, some women behind me were criticizing the ushers because they thought the ushers weren’t ushering well enough or something(?) I usher a lot, and let me tell you, the ushers were doing their jobs. These women expected the ushers to personally escort them to their seats after taking their ticket outside the theater, and ain’t nobody got time for that. And this is a small theater. Ladies, use your common sense and you will be fine.

Ok, so I sit down in my seat. To my left, a woman is eating from a bag of chips that she has “surreptitiously” poking out of her purse…even though the “no food in the theater” sign is hung out in the lobby only about 546,392 times. (!!!)

The couple behind me, they’re talking before the show begins. That’s fine. Until the show starts, and they’re still talking. Loudly. Discussing restaurants that they’ve been to, not even discussing the show that we are watching. (!!!)

The woman to my right: in the middle of the show, I hear the distinct crinkling of plastic. This woman got the munchies in the middle of the show and was feeling around in her purse for her dried fruit or whatever she brought to the theater to snack on…And to top it all off, Miss Chips to my left was shooting eye daggers over at Miss Dried Fruit with an essence of, “Can you believe the nerve of that woman!?”

Dear Woolly Mammoth audience, do better, be respectful, support the arts.

Honestly, I know I’m harping on these people, but I hope they had a great time because they certainly saw a fantastic show.

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