Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 19, 2020

REVIEW: Hartford Stage, Pike St.

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
through February 8, 2020
by Jarice Hanson

In a power-packed 80 minute performance the effervescent playwright/actor Nilaja Sun captivates the audience with a highly original story about three generations of a Puerto Rican family on the Lower East Side of New York City. Among the characters she brings to life are Evelyn, a single mother, her handicapped teen-aged daughter, her womanizing father, and her PTSD-afflicted Navy Seal brother. Cameos “appearances” (since they are all played by Sun, herself) include a 95-year old Holocaust Survivor neighbor, an Asian shopkeeper, and more.

Pike St. is funny, heartbreakingly sad, and deeply touching. Inspired by the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, Sun wrote the piece to honor those people whose lives were changed by catastrophic events of nature. Directed by Ron Russell, who also designed the achingly effective sound for the piece, the almost-bare stage serves as a canvas for Sun’s portraits of family, place, and time. The story is highly original and painstakingly constructed so that the final scene is never telegraphed, but somehow, inevitable. Sun is one of those unique performers who touches the audience with the sound of her voice and the energy appropriate for a woman whose last name is “Sun.”

Photo by T. Charles Erikson
As patrons take their seats, she sits quietly on stage, focusing on breathing and slowly, she transforms herself into Candi, the non-communicative handicapped daughter of our protagonist; from that point on, the actress’ energy never waivers. Watching her connect to the audience is like participating in a master class in acting. Her rapid "nuwyourican" speech gives way to the various characters and she connects with the audience in a call and response pattern that pulls everyone together and readies the audience for a non-stop ride. It’s impossible not to like her as a performer and we collectively laugh and sigh with recognition about the flawed individuals she creates. Sun connects with the audience in a way that is almost magical, and the Hartford audience was not disappointed. They hooted, they sighed, and they rewarded her with a long, strong, standing ovation.

Nilaja Sun is a “performer’s performer.” Her writing is fresh and her performance is controlled, energetic, and she makes every word clear and understandable. Her critically-acclaimed Off-Broadway hit No Child… was recognized with 21 awards, but she is also known to television audiences and she has worked as a teaching artist in the New York and Connecticut school systems, where, you can imagine, she must be an inspirational teacher and coach. She is undoubtedly, a performer not to be missed.