Upon entering the Roundabout, it seems like Pike St. will be like any other modest fringe drama. One woman, one stool, in a minimalistic setting. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We are transported into the humble flat of 30-something year old Evelyn; the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants. Here she looks after her paralysed 15-year-old daughter, Candi. Unable to move her into a storm shelter as a hurricane approaches the city, she prepares the best she can.
Nilaja Sun’s ability to play ten radically different characters; from 30-something Evelyn, to her daughter, to her lecherous father, to his girlfriend, to the shopkeeper, to the elderly neighbour; whilst giving each of them distinct mannerisms, accents and behaviours is stunning. The audience never has any doubt as to which character they are seeing, even during the most frantic of arguments and character-filled scenes.
What makes this play truly great is the brutal simplicity with which it depicts ordinary life, for both Evelyn and her family. Without ever feeling preachy, Pike St. confronts the gentrification of lower Manhattan, the distrust of authority figures and the actual experiences of American ‘war heroes’. In a community that contains White, Jewish, Hispanic and Arab citizens; the scale of the racism is alarming. When Evelyn confronts her European neighbour over the hypocrisy of her anti-immigrant sentiment, the response she receives is one of the most meaningful lines of dialogue I have ever heard in a play.
In a play that could have been homogeneously bleak, it is wonderful to have some beautifully sweet moments. The scene in which Evelyn reminisces about her daughter’s childhood ambitions is a delight to watch. The acerbic wit of her father, and the eccentric Jewish lady downstairs, provide some much-needed comic relief without once being jarring.
Furthermore, the technical aspects of the show are designed magnificently. Everything from the sounds of life in New York as you enter, (news reports, political speeches, fragments of Klezmer music and hip-hop) to the build-up of the oncoming storm, shows the level of thought that has gone into creating this play.
Pike St. is a painfully timely play, a snapshot of working-class life in New York nestled away in the safety of Summerhall. Mesmerizingly performed by Sun and heart wrenchingly comparable to recent events, I defy anyone to be able to leave this show without a lump in their throat.