Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Pike St. by Nilaja Sun, Sept 12, 2017 ****1/2

Written & performed by Nilaja Sun 
At Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre, Melbourne, until Sep 17, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
Stars: ****1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Wed Sept 12 2017, & later in print. KH 
 Nilaja Sun

Magnetic solo performer, Nilaja Sun, populates the stage with eccentric characters in Pike St., leaving the audience gaping and cheering her consummate performance of multiple roles.

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Evelyn prepares her American-Puerto Rican family’s rundown apartment for a hurricane’s onslaught, and this fictional situation comes into sharp relief while parts of real world USA currently face hurricane devastation.

Evelyn, a former Transit Authority worker, now studies ‘energy healing’ in a valiant effort to heal her severely disabled daughter, Candace/Candy, who is immobilised and cannot breathe without a respirator.

Sun combines bold comedy with incisive social observation, empathy and her signature open hearted, engaging style, and we forget that one person plays every role as Sun transports us to Pike St. with rapid dialogue and deft changes of voice, physicality and attitude.

With impeccable technique and split-second timing, Sun transforms from able-bodied Evelyn to the crooked body of Candy, then to Manny, Evelyn’s muscular but war-damaged brother.

Manny’s cheerful bravado and heroic, medal-winning achievements mask deep trauma and flashbacks to horrific episodes during his recent army service.

A comic highlight is Evelyn’s saucy but stiff-limbed father, Poppy, but his audacity is tempered by grief and humiliation stemming from his Vietnam War service.

Visitors to Evelyn’s apartment include ancient Mrs. Appelbaum whose memory fluctuates, seductive and selfish Migdalia, Poppy’s latest flame, and Manny’s old pal, Tykeen, who prattles and skips as he tempts the clean-living Manny with dope, caffeine and fast food.

Separate from, but intrinsic to the story is Lola, Evelyn’s late mother who was a renowned healer and who cheerfully leads the audience in ritualistic breathing techniques that expel sickness and ill-feeling – and, yes, we really feel better!

The rhythm and pace are frantic as the family members race to storm-proof their world, but one has the impression that their lives are always teetering on the brink of disaster, even without the storm.

This comedy-tragedy is surprising, compelling and moving – but the tragedy is not where we expect it in Pike St.  

By Kate Herbert
  Nilaja Sun

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