Cleveland Play House’s ‘Pipeline’ is an education
Dysfunctional families are an equal opportunity destroyer and nowhere is this more evident than in the Cleveland Play House production of Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline. The show is currently onstage in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square.
Nya (Suzette Azariah Gunn*) is a divorced mother. She is also a devoted English teacher at an inner city public school where strife and conflict are a constant threat. Her teenage son, Omari (Kadeem Ali Harris*) on the other hand attends an exclusive private boarding school that is financed by his father, Xavier (Bjorn DuPaty*) whose only contact with his son is a monthly check to cover his student living expenses.
In spite of being given the best advantages money can buy, Omari finds himself in serious trouble for the third time. During an English class discussion of Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son” the teacher presses Omari for an opinion on the work. The young man, thinking that he has been singled out because of his race lashes out and shoves the teacher all while being captured on video by student cell phones. Due to changes in the juvenile corrections system of what has been deemed the school to prison pipeline Omari now faces at the very least expulsion and possibly prison.
In the meantime, Nya has to deal with the problems of fellow teacher, Laurie (Rachel Harker*) who has just returned to school after extensive facial reconstructive surgery following a student knife attack. There is also Dun (Eric Robinson*), the full time school security guard who had a brief fling with Nya and may be one of the causes for the divorce. Nya is also struggling with alcohol and tobacco addictions as she turns to these drugs to help deaden her feelings and deal with her anxiety.
Another factor thrown into the mix is Omari’s compulsively jealous girlfriend, Jasmine (Jade Radford*) whose stay at the school is the result of both her parents each working two jobs. Jasmine has an overly high opinion of herself as she attempts to fit in with the privileged female hierarchy of this exclusive school.
*Member of Actors Equity Association
This is a play in which the cast is able to wring out much more angst and emotion then the simplistic and predictable story probably deserves. Suzette Azariah Gunn is well cast as Nya, bringing a high degree of vulnerability to the role. Kadeem Ali Harris as her troubled son does a fine turn as the disenfranchised youth who is trying to make sense of his own mental issues and their underlying causes. Bjorn DuPaty is great as the aloof father who thinks because of his social status he has all the answers. The high water mark is during a confrontation with Omari when he confesses to “wanting to choke the living shit out of you” to which Omari asks, “What has stopped you?” to Xavier’s deadpan reply, “Witnesses.”
Even the minor role of Jade Radford as Jasmine is superbly done as the social climbing vain and obsessive girl friend. Rachel Harker as Laurie and Eric Robinson as Dun are expanded through raw talent to make you feel what it is like to work in a pressure cooker environment where the odds are stacked against you no matter what you do.
The multi-functional set by Michael Carnahan combines the industrial feel of an inner city school, Nya’s quiet home nook and the teacher’s lounge with a dorm bed, school desk and hospital waiting room chairs rising from below to center stage. Very clever indeed. The video overlays by Katherine Freer set the mood for each scene, especially the multiple student fight scenes showing all out brawls. Chilling.
This intermission free ninety minutes flies by as we are witnesses to the turmoil brought on by spousal betrayal and the resulting problems in its wake with a story ripped right off the headlines that brings us face to face with a growing problem in our society.
Pipeline runs through November 3, 2019 in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square. For tickets and information visit www,playhousesquare.org, call (216) 241-6000 or stop by the Playhouse Square ticket Office located in the outer lobby of the State Theatre.