Sunday, March 24, 2024

"Pipeline" ★ ★ ★ ★

Dominique Morriseau's "Pipeline," directed by L. Peter Callender, is brilliantly written and acted. From the opening video backdrop, a disturbing series of newsreels showing police brutalizing Black school kids, to the first bit of audio, featuring a school administrator's voice over a grainy p.a. system informing kids they are not allowed to bring cell phones into their school, "AND THERE WILL BE NO EXCEPTIONS!," we are slammed uncomfortably against the wall of everyday reality. But what follows is a brilliant study of six people caught up in the pipeline that criminalizes students of color and funnels them into our nation's prisons.

Leontyne Mbele-Mbong plays Nya, the mom, whose dream of sending her son Omari (Atlantis Clay) to an upscale private school appears to be backfiring. Omari already has Two Strikes against him - another incident will get him expelled. 

Nya is a teacher at the local school in her neighborhood, the school Omari would normally have attended, but problems in this school are overwhelming. Fellow teacher Laurie (Kelly Rinehart) and security guard Dun (Gary Moore) are caught up in the everyday violence among students, about which they are powerless to do anything. Equally powerless are Omari's girlfriend Jasmine, played with smoldering force by Ije Success, as well as Nya's estranged husband Xavier, played by Michael Gene Sullivan.

Sullivan normally plays characters that make us laugh. Not this time. There is nothing funny about Xavier. 

There are no easy answers. As Nya keeps saying: "Just instruct me. Tell me what to do." 

Each actor gets a monologue and they all shine. We were spellbound by Dun's back-and-forth with Laurie, in which the teacher is about to be disciplined for breaking up a fight between two of her students in which one of the students was having his head slammed against the floor, while Dun, the head of security, was unable to come to her room fast enough because another teacher was complaining at the same time about something else and Dun's line was busy. 

Ms. Morriseau, who was once a teacher herself in the Detroit school system, gets to the heart of each of her characters. But brilliant writing is nothing without equally brilliant acting. "Pipeline" gives us both and leaves us talking about the show for days afterwards.

RATINGS: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants FOUR STARS to Dominique Morriseau's "Pipeline." This is a show everyone should see. The current run lasts only one more week, so hurry.


Atrium Theater

401 Van Ness Avenue (4th floor of War Memorial Opera House), San Francisco

Through March 31, 2024


No comments: