Here’s a review of Dominique Morisseau’s PIPELINE by Howard W. Blake High School theater performance major Hannah Lehrer. #BHSReviews is an initiative of students reviewing local productions while encouraging their peers and classmates to support and attend more live theatre. In order to help shape the future of live theatre in Tampa Bay – American Stage offers free tickets to all of our mainstage shows to young people under the age of 20 through our UNDER 20 PASSPORT.
By: Hannah Lehrer
High school in itself is a daunting, and at times perilous period of life. Every day has equal opportunity to bring both a multitude of successes and failures, all of which are a vital part of decoding the teenage identity. This identity revolves heavily on our background, instincts, aspirations, but most importantly, our relationships. As a high school student, I had yet to find a work that emanates and properly showcases that search for identity, specifically in such a candid manner; or so I had thought.
This past week, I had the privilege of viewing the masterpiece that was Pipeline, at American Stage. This play encompassed all my greatest hopes and fears, as it delved into the harsh realities that come with being a high school student in the 21st century. The story centers around Nya, a single mother and educator, who goes above and beyond to create a promising life for her only son, Omari. However, complications arise as Omari acts out on a pulse of aggression, damaging the roots his mother has worked so hard to cultivate. This is when the true battle between right and wrong sets in, as the audience is brought on a journey to decipher how Omari is able to process the weight of his actions without compromising his beliefs.
Gillian Glasco is chilling as the tenacious Nya, who we watch repeatedly struggle with the prospects of her son’s future. From her opening monologue, I was captivated by her unique ability to convey both utter desperation and extreme wit. Very rarely do I find myself wanting to laugh and cry within the breaths between a two-sentence phrase. On a similar note, Andrew Montgomery Coleman, who played Omari, continued to break my heart, time and time again, with his passionate portrayal of a teenager trying to keep his head above water. A scene between the two, struck a nerve deep down, as I watched the battle of a mother, who would give everything for her son, struggle to give her child what he truly desires; a voice. I could feel myself examining my own life, contemplating my shortcomings as I am faced with the inability to properly communicate when challenged by conflict. Yet, we later see Andrew perform a gut-wrenching monologue as he details the impact that his race and home life have on his search for identity and success. Cranstan Cumberbatch (Dun) and Kiara Hines (Jasmine) were able to bring a completely different element to the table. With scene-stealing charm and a vivacious nature, both brought honest yet light-hearted appeals to the intense storyline. Although, they also had shining moments delivering profound dialogue that exposed darker elements of our flawed society. By the end of the show, I had no other choice than to be on my feet, deeply moved by the new perspective that I had gained over the 90-minute period.
As far as technical aspects, the set provided a simple yet intimate feel. Each new setting was closely kept, allowing for more focus on the actors before us. White brick walls led to haunting projections of campus violence between scene changes, which closely resembled fights I have seen after pep rallies, or throughout the lunch hall. For anyone who has survived public high school, this is a familiar yet highly unsettling image. However, it provided perfect context for the issues discussed throughout the show. In my opinion, the most intriguing scene took place with hardly any set at all. As Nya steps in front of her class, she reads the poem, We Real Cool, written by Gwendolyn Brooks, a black poet famous for her beautiful and controversial work inspired by the civil rights movement. On stage left, we see the poem delicately projected in a common font, one to be associated with formal writing and scholarly work. On stage right, the poem is repeated but this time it is displayed almost as if it were carefully crafted graffiti. This simple change holds extreme power. What I once mistook for a simple poem I breezed over in AP Lang, was now the anthem of an entire generation. It symbolized the fast-paced nature of kids growing up in the modern age. We act before we think. This was truly a phenomenal moment of the show, both visually and emotionally.
I tip my hat to the entire cast and crew. They cultivated a story that grabbed the attention of a real-life high school student, despite their “all-knowing” nature. That is not always the easiest of tasks. I highly encourage anyone and everyone to explore this show. I can assure you, it is more than worth your attention. It is worth your praise.