As you enter the theater you see a teacher’s desk center stage back. It has all the things you would suspect like a telephone, tape dispenser, coffee cup, cup for pens and pencils, books and calendar planner. What is missing is a chair. On stage right back is a school door, the same green color as the desk. Next to the door is an American Flag. There is also Center stage on the wall a speaker for a P.A. System. The ceiling is also made to look like the inside of the school with white and light panels done in a very institutional pattern. Rap music is being pumped into the theater. The back wall turns into a projection of a school hallway, a Black woman enters and we are off!!!
When the play starts we see Nya (KAREN PITTMAN) on the phone leaving a message for her ex-husband Xavier ( MOROCCO OMARI) about their son Omari (NAMIR SMALLWOOD).Apparently there has been some major trouble at the rich private school “Fern Brook Academy”. We find out a little more as the scene switches to the dorm room of Omari’s (SMALLWOOD) girlfriend Jasmine ( HEATHER VELAZQUEZ). Apparently there was a fight between Omari (SMALLWOOD) and someone else and it was recorded on tape and they fear it will go viral. Omari ( SMALLWOOD) is banned from the campus of the school and is planning his escape to somewhere before charges are filed against him. Nya( PITTMAN) arrives at the school and first has it out with Jasmine (VELAZQUEZ) as she tries to get out of Jasmine ( VELAZQUEZ) the whereabouts of Omari ( SMALLWOOD). At first Jasmine plays dumb because she was packing a bag to go after him herself. But Nya (PITTMAN) is having none of it and stops short of physically putting her hands on Jasmine( VELAZQUEZ) before she gives it up. Nya (PITTMAN) takes off after him. While waiting to here she goes back to work. She works at a ghetto school very different from the private school she sends Omari ( SMALLWOOD) too. Xavier (OMARI), her ex-husband, shows up and they argue over what is best for Omari ( SMALLWOOD). At first Xavier (OMARI) the ex-husband starts to blame this all on Nya( PITTMAN) but then he pulls back and says he wants to take physical custody of Omari( SMALLWOOD) because 1. He can give him a better school and environment to grow up in and 2. Omari ( SMALLWOOD) needs a man’s hand to guide him now that he is a young Black male getting into trouble. Nya (PITTMAN) finally agrees. Omari (SMALLWOOD) shows up at home much to Nya’s (PITTMAN) surprise. He tells his mom how he was goated into attacking a teacher because that teacher was racially baiting him over Ralph Ellison’s Native Son; equating Omari (SMALLWOOD) to Bigger Thomas in the story. He keeps asking why he let the “animal” in him come out, like Omari (SMALLWOOD) would know all about being an animal!!!!
Dominique Morisseau crafts a drama that ties you up in knots. Which way is the right way to go? How do you raise a young Black male in Trump’s America without burying him as an statistic? Her writing is poetic and smooth yet gritty – effusive even. The words that comes out of some characters mouths shocks and awes you. But you feel her pleading her case, arguing this problem out right in front of us. The best thing is that she comes to no tidy answer because there is no answer or easy choices just gut wrenching realities. Her use of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem WE REAL COOL is inspired. KAREN PITTMAN (Nya) is a force of nature. She has many levels like a dramatic blooming onion. Her performance is riveting. She grabs you and takes you along this journey together. Just powerful. NAMIR SMALLWOOD ( Omari) gives a more measured performance. He is understated and pensive like a boiling pot. His eyes are his best weapons. He is unapologetic to call a spade a spade. HEATHER VELAZQUEZ (Jasmine) is a sassy and a comic gem. She gives you young Rosie Perez with the attitude and strength. TASHA LAWRENCE (Laurie) is a spark plug popping off unexpectedly. She is a real pistol with a million words a minute mouth. What saves her is that what she says is the truth and you get her. MOROCCO OMARI (Xavier) fills the shoes of the firm and stubborn father figure. He has a polished and professional look to himself and his performance. When he speaks or acts you pay close attention. JAIME LINCOLN SMITH (Dun) is street smart with hood swagger. He also has a sexy appeal to him that he plays like a deck of cards. He can and does go there when needed so don’t push him. PIPELINE IS A DRAMATIC JUGGERNAUT THAT PULLS YOU IN THE EYE OF THE STORM. It is a journey that you will be glad you made and leave you feeling better than you came. It is a must see at LINCOLN CENTER until the end of August.