Nilaja Sun’s one woman show Pike St. features just under a dozen different characters and she plays every single one of them; from the anti-immigration neighbour, to a little boy, to a soldier with PTSD, to an elderly Puerto Rican man. Her dexterity and flexibility as a performer are akin to those of a professional athlete. She didn’t just give voice to all these characters, she inhabited them, to the point that before she even spoke, we could tell which character she was just by her body language.
With her writing and performing 11 characters, it is no surprise that some of the writing seems to rely on tropes. However, the stereotypes are well recongnised and allow us to follow her each time she embodies a different character.
Performed in the Roundabout at Summerhall, Sun uses the full stage to her advantage. She begins as Evelyn, a mother training to be a healer. She releases the bad energy from the room, takes us through a few breathing exercises. Sun’s character, Evelyn, lives on the Lower East Side with her daughter Candi and her father. It becomes clear from the very beginning that Candi is central to the piece; her presence on stage showed by a chair. Candi, who is unable to move due to a medical condition, responds to music and the news. Evelyn and her father look after her as they prepare for the storm. With severe weather conditions and the return of Evelyn’s brother Manny from the navy, we are given an insight into their world and how things operate. Though the content of the play is heartwrenching, the humour and beautiful moments between the characters stop it from being depressing.
The play looks at gentrification, disability, racism and masculinity. There’s a moment in this piece when Sun plays Manny and his friend waiting on the sidewalk, hitting on women as they walk by. Sans costume and props, she uses her comedic timing and impeccable impression of cat-callers to leave the audience in stitches.
The music and soundscapes in the piece gave it another level. Sun’s ability to twist and dance to the music while she was different characters added to the comedy.
The play, which received a standing ovation at the end, leaves us asking questions of ourselves. It shows us the importance of community and family while being set in a time when gentrification threatens to divide them. Pike St. is a beautiful exploration of working-class life and the trials and tribulations people encounter when coming face-to-face with natural disasters.
Pike St played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.