New York State of Mind
Evelyn Vega. Former subway conductor with a non-ethnic voice, now full time carer for her brain damaged daughter, Candi, who’s confined to their fifth floor apartment on dialysis and a respirator. As an approaching hurricane hurtles towards the Lower East Side, energy cleanser Evelyn is trying to batten down the hatches in her apartment on Pike Street, ushering all the bad energy out. The old Jewish woman downstairs, and Evelyn’s rum loving father, are unperturbed, having lived through two Depressions and two wars between them. Yet the imminent arrival of Evelyn's war hero brother, Mani, could mean the hurricane will be the easier tempest to handle. As generations of survivors face into the eye of yet another storm, Candi, sensitive to vibrations, might find her New York One state of mind being overwhelmed by layers of repressed love and violence looking for release. And if release is found, at what price are such pyrrhic victories won?
In Nilaja Sun’s extraordinary “Pike St.” one Puerto Rican woman will raise heaven and earth and all that God allows to bring her daughter back to the world. Even if Evelyn’s daily rituals might mean she’s away with the fairies, or in league with the angels, her daily acts of faith, or denial, speak to a will that could move mountains. A snapshot of a family and a city linked by generations, “Pike St.” captures the mental, emotional, and spiritual abusiveness that is both family and New York City in its unvarnished, hard minded directness. But never hard hearted, as soft spoken acts of heroism, gallows humour, and a dogged refusal to quit define a woman and her city crafted from trials and diversity. Asking big questions in its little way, “Pike St.” tackles masculinity, PTSD, surviving against the odds, and the ties that bind generations. And that’s just for starters.
From the get go, Sun’s taut script is delivered with real time visceral immediacy as Sun produces a powerhouse performance, beginning with her daily ritual. Throughout, ritual in all aspects of life is cleverly explored. Whether it’s lighting more candles than Whitney Houston’s funeral, taking the same route to the kosher shop for the same food order, or picking the same numbers when Papi gambles every week, the belief in patterns of behaviour capable of manipulating powers above is always present. Sun’s own theatrical ritual sees her channeling characters like someone possessed, employing a richly articulated vocabulary of physical movements, seamlessly woven together under Ron Russell’s superb direction. All played out in Megan Raham’s understated set, made richly evocative by Tyler Micoleau’s superb lighting. If pace slackens a little as events detour into Manny’s reunion with a friend, a section feeling more point driven than character driven in places, even then there's a richness of detail.
They say what you send out karmically returns to you. In which case, on the evidence of “Pike St.,” Nilaja Sun should be set for life. Like Penny Arcade, or Stephen Adly Guirgis, Sun speaks truth to a New York state of mind which gentrification is rapidly eradicating. Heartfelt, heart breaking, and heart warming, “Pike St.” is a bittersweet joy.
“Pike St.” by Nilaja Sun, runs as part of Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 at Smock Alley Theatre until Oct 6.
For more information, visit Dublin Theatre Festival 2019 or Smock Alley Theatre.