Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Before a word is spoken, the audience sees Nilaja Sun sitting on a chair as facial and bodily contortions dominate and transfix. A hurricane is approaching New York City, and Evelyn is afraid the power will go out in her Lower East Side neighborhood. Evelyn's daughter Candi is a brain-afflicted teenager who cannot control herself. Evelyn hopes to become a healer, but her work right now is caring for Candi; she had to quit her job as a subway conductor. Candi cannot breathe or be articulateshe is dependent upon machines. That accounts for Evelyn's terror should the power go out. Evelyn's brother Manny has been serving in the Army in Afghanistan, but now he's coming home and Evelyn hopes he will be helpful.
There is comedy: A neighbor, Mrs. Applebaum, is out of touch with the times and, perhaps, reality. She is unaware that Martin Luther King, Jr. died decades ago, and Evelyn must inform her that the great leader is gone. And there is difficult drama: Manny comes home and has it in for his father, who also lives in the apartment. Manny is a victim of war trauma and takes it out on others.
With the benefit of Run Russell's direction, Sun is disciplined, specific and, for certain, an inspirational actress. Nothing is random. She shifts from one character (through vocal accent, enunciation, emphasis) to another in an instant.
The script includes representation of three generations of family. Evelyn's mother had a small botanica, and Mikiko Suzuki Macadams' set includes rear shelving that includes many, many candles. At one point the candles glow (courtesy of Tyler Micoleau's lighting).
Clint Ramos costumes Sun in blue shirt and red pants. The actress is in complete control all the time. She is on stage, almost writhing, as theatergoers file in. No one really knows exactly what goes on for the ten minutes or so before dialogue commences. What follows is powerful, courageous, and deeply moving.
Sun attributes her facility with one-woman playwriting and performance to her undergraduate days at Franklin & Marshall College. Since then, she wrote and has performed in the one-person No Child and she has appeared on various television shows such as "Madam Secretary" and "The Good Wife."
The actress knows the Lower East Side, where she grew up, and she knows the people she created and personifies in Pike St.. She performs with a blend of drive and authenticity, which makes this live stage experience absolutely stirring. The substance of the play isn't a secret. See it, however, for a truly singular performance, one that is defining and indelible. Nilaja Sun is at times compassionate or playful or seriousbut always persuasive.
Pike St. runs through February 2, 2020, at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford CT. For tickets and information, call 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.