Through October 13|
PIPELINE Ujima Theater/Ujima Company
By Augustine Warner
Schools are schools. Right?
That’s what Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” is about.
Nya (Shanntina Moore) is an African-American teacher in a violence-ridden high school somewhere in a Black neighborhood in New York City.
Her son Omari (Jerai Khadim) attends an exclusive White boarding school somewhere north of the City.
He really doesn’t like much about the school, except for Jazmine (Samantha Cruz), who is his rock in what he thinks of as a bad situation.
Morisseau has written a series of penetrating plays looking at race relations in real times, several of them staged here, among them “Skeleton Crew” and “Detroit 67.”
Omari has serious discipline issues, already “two strikes.”
Then, the class book for the day is Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” a look at race and class a century ago, the hunt for Bigger Thomas after he accidentally kills a young and rich White socialite.
Omari decides the teacher is picking on him when drilling down into the novel and tells him he’s just not interested in taking part in the class discussion, suspecting race is involved because the story of Bigger Thomas is all about race.
Tensions escalate and Omari pushes the teacher out of the way and storms out of the classroom.
Obviously, a bad situation, but here it’s worse because someone in the class records it all on a cell phone and it begins to go viral.
Nya is dealing with the tensions of her school and the problems of a White teacher, Laurie (Mary Moebius), who is clearly a burnout from the problems in the building, one with four schools inside.
There’s also the problem of her ex-husband, Omari’s disconnected father, Xavier (Johnny Rowe).
Omari disappears, really hiding out in Jazmine’s dorm room, complaining about what’s been done to him.
Nya has seen the prep school as a way out for Omari and gets anxious when her son vanishes, while facing dismissal
Finally, Xavier surfaces and appears to blame Nya and offers to take control of Omari so that he can be better controlled.
Of course, that brings in the unexplained tensions in their past relationships.
Then, Laurie is faced with a brutal fight in her classroom, apparently two gang members, and she physically breaks it up when security doesn’t appear and now she faces dismissal.
Under unrelenting pressure, Nya breaks down.
This leads to a centerpiece of the play, the hospital confrontation among Nya, Omari and Xavier and Dun (Phil Davis, Sr.), the security guard in the school building who brought her to the hospital and wisely decides to get out of the way when the family tensions explode.
We don’t find out what happens.
Morisseau clearly wants it that way, since there are plenty of possible endings.
What she does is look at one of the key struggles in American race relations.
“Pipeline” looks at how education isn’t necessarily the answer and some of the reasons why.
It’s also a look at a Black family trying to do their best for a difficult kid and not having all of the answers in a society where not all of them exist.
“Pipeline” is a must-see show, with especially strong performances from Moore, Khadim, Moebius and Rowe and tight direction from Lorna C. Hill.
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