Pike St comprises a lot of small tender stories set in one big story, all happening on stage at once through a kind of physical theatrical mediumship, almost magical except it isn’t: it’s the skill of Nilaja Sun, the darling of one woman performance. Melbourne audiences didn’t stop talking about her show, the OBIE-award-winning No Child which sold out at the Melbourne Festival a few years ago, and now she’s back with Pike St, presented at the Arts Centre, written and performed by her and directed by Ron Russell.
Pike Street is an actual place, a street in New York City, in the lower east side off East Broadway under Manhattan Bridge, near Chinatown, and is where Sun grew up. Sun’s a one-woman band, whipping up a village of vivid noisy characters revolving around a family, in particular the one who cannot speak, teenage Candi, left disabled after a brain aneurysm and dependent on her mother and on both respiratory and dialysis machines. Her mother Evelyn is anxiously preparing for the impact of a major hurricane on the scale of Sandy, and their lives, Candi's in particular, may be threatened.
The characters are so vital and the delivery so rapid-fire there’s a breathtaking quality to the whole thing. The moments of quiet are Candi’s of course and are refreshing after the bigness of all the other personalities, such as Evelyn’s ancient neighbour, Mrs Applebaum, who keeps turning up at the door and whose dementia has her believing she survived not only both the great depression of the 1930s and the Holocaust but the Renaissance as well. She’s yet to take in that Martin Luther King is dead. Although this family is struggling with poverty and few choices, and despite the imminent threat of being blown out of their home, the show feels light-hearted as the personalities are energetic and endear themselves to you, even when they’re less than noble. There’s Evelyn’s flirtatious father Pappy, who fought in Puerto Rico and brother Manny back from Afghanistan sharing a joint with his mad friend Ty, from the hood. The characters are comical but portrayed with respect and never patronized or objectified. There is much to laugh at and with in this sad tale.
Sun is of African American and Puerto Rican background herself which accounts for her acute mimicry of the show’s respective accents, her own and those she grew up hearing. She is a powerful and versatile performer who transforms herself most remarkably. If you don’t go along to this you’ll only get annoyed hearing everyone else raving about it.
Arts Centre Melbourne presents
written and performed by Nilaja Sun
Director Ron Russell
Venue: Fairfax Studio | Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 12 – 17 September 2017
Tickets: $54 – $30