Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Ms. Morisseau's play brilliantly tackles the subject of the state of American public education and more specifically how it fails to serve blacks. The play revolves around one mother's battle to save her son from being sucked down the pipeline (the "school-to-prison pipeline" refers to the disciplinary practices of schools which lead to students from disadvantaged backgrounds going from school to the criminal justice system). The character relationships are vividly drawn and dramatically credible. These are living breathing people and they have clear specific relationships to each other, based on their past lives. The writing is magnificent.
The heart of the play comes in back to back duet scenes, first the mother with her son's girlfriend, then with her son. The arc is completed a bit later with an important scene with her ex-husband Xavier. I salute Ms. Morisseau for finding an ending for this play that is cathartic but emotionally realistic.
Each member of the cast is well neigh perfect in his or her role. Gillian Glasco gives a ferocious performance as Nya, the mother at the center of our story. She shows a very wide emotional range and when she has a monologue about how Nya would sacrifice her own life for her son's, well I believe her. Andrew Montgomery Coleman plays son Omari. He is 25 years old, but is easily believable as the 16- or 17-year-old private school student. When he finally breaks down emotionally and gives a more full explanation of what has driven his rage, it caps a brilliant performance. Kiara Hines as girlfriend Jasmine continues a run of excellence at American Stage (last year A Raisin in the Sun and Hairspray). Cynthia Beckert as Laurie, Cranston Cumberbatch as Dun, and Aaron Morton as Xavier all give exceptional supporting performances.
The matchup of L. Peter Callender and American Stage is one made in theatrical heaven. Earlier this season he was superb as Pops in Between Riverside and Crazy and here he is our outstanding director. Jerid Fox contributes scenic design that keeps the story flowing seamlessly via stage doors and platforms that slide in and out. In a play as emotionally high pitched as this one, keeping the momentum going is a major plus. He also contributes important projections and is property master. Costume designs by Jaye A. Sheldon are spot on as is Chris Baldwin's lighting design.
Over the past few weeks the region has seen a number of beyond excellent productions. Pipeline at American Stage is decidedly among the most worthy of these.
Pipeline, through February 24, 2019, at American Stage, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.