Pike St.

I’ll make no bones about it: Pike St. is brilliant. Nilaja Sun, the show’s writer and solo performer, left Summerhall’s Roundabout Theatre to whooping, cheering and rapturous standing ovation in what is a true testament to the power of this 75 minute tour-de-force. Sun is the beating heart of a Lower East Side, Manhattan community – skipping from character to character, she recreates the joys and hardships of an ordinary working family as they go about their business in the city, waiting for a hurricane to strike.

Virtuosic and life-affirming, Pike St. will leave you in that uplifting place somewhere between devastation and regeneration.

Evelyn is a single mother who cares full time for her fifteen year-old daughter Candi, an aspiring congresswoman who is now almost completely paralysed. Candi is hooked up to multiple life-support systems since suffering a brain aneurism four years ago. Evelyn and Candi live with Evelyn’s boisterous old father, and are expecting the return of Evelyn’s decorated Navy SEAL brother Manny from Afghanistan later in the day. Bouncing between these central figures and a host of vibrant supporting characters, Sun weaves her image of Pike Street life.

Firstly it has to be said that the writing is stellar. Sun’s nuanced script manages to be funny, smart, afraid, anxious, thrilling; it is textured with all the hopes and fears that make up a multicultural urban community. And on a more practical level, this heady mix of emotions is paced to perfection (no doubt with the help of director Ron Russell), and is punctuated by breathing exercises for the audience led by the trainee healer Evelyn. This proves to be useful both for the project’s structure and for the audience’s concentration. But most importantly, Pike St. feels real. Hailing from Manhattan’s Lower East Side herself, Sun’s writing is so natural because it comes from lived experience.

Yet for Sun, physicality and the body are the priority when it comes to storytelling. In interview, she has said that her scripts emerge from observation of body language and accent. This is abundantly clear when watching Pike St. – from the opening sequence, which sees Sun portraying the near-immobile Candi, to the many changes in character and tempo it is the body that most fully allows Sun to become her creations onstage. Her portrayal of Manny, with his charm and hidden pain, is achieved so precisely because of her control of voice and body; Sun is able to inhabit his huge strength and capacity for rage with a mere shift in vocal and bodily posture. With such a high-energy structure, it would be easy for the actor to lose her audience amidst the chaos of NYC. But Sun’s mastery is such that you are with her throughout the performance from the moment you tune in to what she’s doing, tune in to the buzz.

If you’re looking for a show this August with real, human substance to it, this is the production for you. Virtuosic and life-affirming, Pike St. will leave you in that uplifting place somewhere between devastation and regeneration.  

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

Award-winning Nilaja Sun (No Child...) breathes life into a vibrant mix of Lower East Side residents in her latest solo show. At the heart of Pike St. is Evelyn. She’s balancing welcoming her Navy SEAL brother home, keeping her eccentric father out of trouble and providing electricity for her daughter on life-support. All this before a hurricane hits NYC. Pike St. is one of 2017’s unmissable shows. 'Nilaja Sun is a conjuror and an athlete, a raucous comedian and a poet of hidden pain, a virtuoso at seemingly every skill the stage requires' (Hilton Als, New Yorker).

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