(St. Petersburg, FL) January 26, 2019 – Question: what is the most important job in the world? Depending on who you ask, many answers come to mind. Doctors, scientists, lawyers, spiritual advisors, leaders of a country, the choices are many. But any parent worth their salt would respond, “The most important job in the world is raising a child, helping them grow, evolve, and succeed.” There is much joy in raising a child, but also a lot of heartache. Nya, the lead character in Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline,” (which makes its Tampa Bay Area debut at American Stage), sums it up perfectly, “It’s a gamble…all the time. You send your young man out into the world everyday…but you don’t know…you have no idea if they’re safe.” And Morisseau’s exploration about the pleasures and pains of raising a child, especially if you are a single mother, come to life beautifully at the St. Petersburg-based theater. American Stage’s “Pipeline” serves as an incredible opener for the New Year.
Nya (Gillian Glasco) has many crosses to bear. She is a single mother who teaches at an inner-city public school while trying to raise Omari (Andrew Montgomery Coleman), her teenage son who attends a private school far from their neighborhood. And she is exposed to anger from everyone in her life, such as her seasoned colleague, Laurie (a bitingly witty Cynthia Beckert), whose cynicism about her tenure as an educator becomes more intensified with each passing day. There is the mounting frustration from Dun (a charming Cranston Cumberbatch), the school’s security guard who wants more emotional intimacy from Nya than she can provide. There is also Jasmine (a bubbly firecracker performance by Kiara Hines), whose defiance comes from her misguided, immature loyalty to her boyfriend, Omari, while ex-husband Xavier’s (Aaron Morton) slow-brimming fury stems from a type of selfish coldness. Most importantly, there is Omari, whose self-loathing rage erupts during an incident at his classroom, setting up a chain of events that tests Nya’s strength and sense of self-worth as a parent.
In addition to revealing the challenges that a single parent faces when raising a child, Morisseau examines other relevant social topics such as school violence, poverty, and the powerlessness teachers experience when a majority of their students go to prison after (or if) they graduate. In lesser hands, the story would have ended up as a political diatribe, preaching issues rather than telling a story. But Morisseau crafts her tale wonderfully by focusing on the human element with regard to Nya and Omari. However, the playwright does fall into stereotype during two instances, such as Dun accusing Laurie of racism that seems to come out of left field. And then there is Xavier, who is very one-dimensional with his detached self-centeredness. Although Morton does a good job with the material he has, Morisseau’s paints him as a caricature, not a fully developed character. Initially, Morisseau had the opportunity to avoid that tiresome storytelling trend of “father demonization” by revealing a certain action committed by Nya that might have resulted in her divorce. But then she fails to follow up, most notably in the last scene between Xavier and Omari. Morisseau should have ended the scene more ambiguously by showing a brief glimpse of Xavier’s humanity, exposing a glimmer of hope between father and son. Instead, she falls into stereotype by having his detachment maintained, thereby preventing the entire work from reaching its fullest potential.
Although the acting is uniformly brilliant, the true stars are Glasco and Coleman, whose familial chemistry is mercurial, tender and explosive. Glasco is on the stage almost the entire duration of the play’s 90-minute run time (no intermissions) and the audience is witness to how she slowly peels many emotional layers from her character like an onion, revealing a haunted intensity, a tender devotion, a volatile outrage, and a conflicted vulnerability, to name a few. Her energy never wavers and it’s a clear demonstration on how this talented actress can bring a complex character to life. Equally magnetic is Coleman’s Omari, who interlaces his youthful aggression with a sense of helpless confusion regarding where his place is in the world. He deftly shows Omari’s emotional journey through his relationships with his parents, his girlfriend, and especially the audience when he recites lines from “We Real Cool,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, which reveals his poetic nature. And under the flawless direction of L. Peter Callender, “Pipeline” continues to maintain American Stages’ track record as a regional theater with a perfect 2018/2019 season…so far.
Peter A. Balaskas is a fiction writer, copyeditor, and playwright.
Pipeline runs from January 23 through February 24, 2019
163 3rd St N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Photos by Joey Clay Photography