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We Were There: Pipeline at Lincoln Center Theater

Namir Smallwood & Karen Pittman in Pipeline @ LCT Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Jerrica White

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We real cool. We

Left school. We

Lurk late. We

Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We

Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We

Die soon.

 

 

In 1960 Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks’ haunting crescendo from innocence to downfall, “We Real Cool,” was published by Harpers.  In 2017 Dominique Morisseau humanizes and harmonizes with the Youth experience by following a similarly eerie trajectory, in her newest play “Pipeline.”

Walking into the Mitzie E. Newhouse theater and being met with the familiarity of harsh fluorescent lights and institutional cement block walls, will humble you.  For 90 minutes of your life, you’re back in a classroom and the choice is yours on who is going to be your instructor.  Enter Nya (a sharp and haunting Karen Pittman), an inner-city public school teacher and mother.  Enter Omari (a brilliantly magnetic, Namir Smallwood) a private school attendee and son.  Both professors in their own right, they quarter 90 minutes across the war zone of a mother whose every move is to protect her son and a son who’s fighting to deflect the de-humanizing compartmentalization of his surroundings.  The title of the play, “Pipeline,” is a direct reference to the national trend where students are funneled through a pipeline from school to prison due to zero tolerance policies which criminalize over minor infractions.

If Morisseau wasn’t already on your radar, look now.  Where there could have been didactic language, there’s deep dialogue. Where we’d normally see over-explanation to compensate for a lack of understanding the Black experience, we see compassion.  Morisseau lays a genuine and raw foundation for the voices of her characters to sing from. She fleshes out everyday heroes—mothers, fathers, teachers (Brava, Tasha Lawrence! A standout.), students, and security guards (a charming Jaime Lincoln Smith) –who are all just trying to do the right thing.

Lileana Blain-Cruz’s direction and staging is the microphone that amplifies the tight harmonies and arrangements between this stunning 6-member cast.  Within this composition, the duets resonate the loudest. That is the poetic, song-like exchanges that Morisseau has penned in the sweeping, full-range of emotion and complication that makes up the key of humanity, that we confuse as dialogue.

Father + Son

Mother + Son

Mother + Father

 

We are reminded that life isn’t easy, family isn’t perfect, and resolution isn’t promised. We’re reminded that life isn’t promised.

The interactions between Omari and his girlfriend Jasmine (a passionate and wise, Heather Velazquez) move me the most.  Too often we dismiss the validity of feelings such as love or fear, based on age and experience.  Morisseau gives the voice of our youth bass and credibility.

If this play was a thesis, I gather it postulates, why do we not see people for the entire human being they are?  Why do we not take the time to understand the factors behind circumstance?

Omari’s classroom violence.  Xavier (Morocco Omari) and Nya’s failed marriage.  Nya’s crippling anxiety.  Xavier’s absentee fatherhood. Nya’s infidelity.  None of these events stand alone. The question now is: do we take this story as a mere page out of a textbook, or a reminder on how to live life through a lens of radical empathy?

Pipeline doesn’t seek to answer large questions for us, rather it invites us into the classroom to be part of this eloquent and intelligent debate.

Pipeline

Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater

Written by Dominique Morisseau; Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Set design by Matt Saunders, costume design by Montana Blanco, lighting design by Yi Zhao, sound design by Justin Ellington.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission.
Pipeline will run through August 27, 2017

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Cast List

Jessica Frances Dukes to Lead the Cast of By The Way, Meet Vera Stark

Drew Shade

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Jessica Frances Dukes Photo via Signature Theatre

Acting powerhouse Jessica Frances Dukes, who recently slayed Alisha Harris’ Is God Is Off-Broadway, has been tapped as the title role of Lynn Nottage‘s By The Way, Meet Vera Stark at The Signature Theatre. Directed by Kamilah Forbes the revival production runs January 29, 2019, through March 3 with a February 19 opening night.

You may remember the Off-Broadway premiere of this show at Second Stage Theater in 2011 as it starred Sanaa Lathan.

It’s the Golden Age of Hollywood, and aspiring starlet Vera Stark works as a maid to Gloria Mitchell, an aging star grasping at her fading career. Worlds collide when Vera lands a trailblazing role in an antebellum epic starring…her boss. While Vera’s portrayal of a slave turns out to be groundbreaking, decades later scholars and film buffs still grapple with the actress’ legacy in Hollywood and the impact that race had on her controversial career. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage’s fast-paced, sly satire, directed by Kamilah Forbes, will take you on a seventy-year journey through Vera’s life and the cultural climate that originally shaped her and continues today.

The cast also features Jenni Barber as Gloria, Manoel Felciano as Max/Peter, Warner Miller as Leroy/Herb, Carra Patterson as Anna Mae/Afua, Heather Alicia Simms as Lottie/Carmen, and David Turner as Brad/Slavick.

The creative team includes of Clint Ramos (scenic design), Dede M. Ayite (costume design), Matt Frey (lighting design), Mikaal Sulaiman (sound design), Katherine Freer (projection design) and Daniel Kluger (composition).

 

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Events and Happenings

Billy Porter Will Star In His New Play Remember To Live At Primary Stages

Drew Shade

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Billy Porter Pose(FX) promo photo

The Off-Broadway theatre company, Primary Stages, announced their 35th Anniversary season. Launching the lineup includes a new play by Tony Award-winning & Golden Globe-nominated actor Billy Porter entitled Remember To Live. That’s correct; The Pose(FX) star is a playwright. Beginning performances October 29th, Porter will also be starring in the piece.

Billy Porter draped at the Golden Globes Photo via @theebillyporter IG

Back in 2014 Porter’s While I Yet Live debuted at Primary Stages under the direction of Sheryl Kaller, who will also direct this future production set to premiere at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Remember to Live is told from the perspective of an African-American gay filmmaker. The play centers on the stories of five gay men who all lived through the AIDS crisis and are now grappling with sex, intimacy, redemption, and love all with the indifference the current political climate.

Performances run October 29 through December 22. Additional casting to be announced at a later date.

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