REVIEW: We Die Soon – Morisseau’s “Pipeline”

REVIEW: We Die Soon – Morisseau’s “Pipeline”

Dominique Morisseau’s superb new play, “Pipeline”, which plays at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center through Sunday, is an arresting meditation on race, history, and education. 

Omari, a black teenage boy, attends an elite private school upstate.  His parents separated, mother, Nya, is an inner-city public school English teacher, and father, Xavier, a lawyer.  When Omari physically attacks a teacher and faces expulsion, their lives are upended, forcing them to confront bitter realities about the thin reed upon which black men in America exist, where history haunts, second chances are scarce, and imprisonment or an early grave are presumed. 

The play is in direct dialogue with two major literary works, the iconic poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks and the seminal novel “Native Son” by Richard Wright, both of which figure heavily in the plot in interesting and rewarding ways.  Morisseau’s dialogue bears echoes of poetry and is a thrill to hear, especially in the hands of such a talented cast.  Karen Pittman, as Nya, gives a standout performance, fraught with anxiety, crisp with authority, and simultaneously comic and tragic, while supported by a terrific ensemble.  Morisseau is careful to calculate the tension throughout the play, and forces us to constantly re-examine whose side we are on in the myriad bouts between mother, father, son, girlfriend, colleague, school, and society.  There are, of course, no easy saints or villains, just as in life, and the play is raw at times, painfully real, and terribly relevant without being too heavy-handed.

What “Pipeline” does best is to show the world through the eyes of another, giving voice to these characters and their predicament, and viscerally revealing the emotional toll that can be exacted upon people of color in a racist society.  And that is no doubt true even for people of color in the audience, some of whom I suspect had the same experience I did while seeing “Significant Other” last season.  Sometimes a play about your own reality is the most heartbreaking of all.

Bottom Line: run, don’t walk, to get seats for “Pipeline” before it closes on Sunday.

Bonus poem for your enjoyment:

“We Real Cool”
By Gwendolyn Brooks

          The Pool Players.
          Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

From “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks, published by Harpers. © 1960 by Gwendolyn Brooks.

tl;dr for August 28th

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