‘PIPELINE’ LEADS TOWARD ONE DARK DESTINATION
As Dominique Morisseau’s “Pipeline” begins, Nya (Tyla Abercrumbie) has just been informed that her son Omari (Matthew Elam) has had a serious altercation at a boarding school and is about to be expelled. Nya, an inner-city public school administrator, tries gamely to get through the day as she reaches out to her ex-husband and makes plans to bring her son home. In the meantime, we meet Laurie (Janet Ulrich Brooks), an instructor who has returned to her classes after a harrowing confrontation with a student. Laurie makes a pact with the school security guard, Dun (Ronald L. Conner), to protect her in the future.
In and through Morisseau’s insightful story, deftly directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce at Victory Gardens Theater, runs the fear of reprisal for anyone who takes a stand against prejudice and discrimination in school systems and what effect those actions will have on the future of the students’ lives. Omari’s impassioned defense, first to his girlfriend, Jasmine (Aurora Real de Asua), and then to his mother and father, Xavier (Mark Spates Smith), begins to rip apart his family—his rebellious attitude the cause of Nya’s growing stress and anxiety. From their perspective, Omari is in the pipeline toward only one dark destination. That reality has everyone worried.
The heart-wrenching performances of Abercrumbie and Brooks, whose mounting frustration at working in a challenging and often hostile educational system that drives one to drink and the other to the edge of her sanity, are raw and compelling. It seems that no matter how much care and attention they invest, situations will grow out of control in an instant with dire consequences.
Elam’s Omari believes he has every right to be self-righteous in the face of bigotry and persecution, so he casts aside the safe harbor that his family projects would be a better fit than the lawless unknown of the streets. And, as a role model, the all-business Xavier lost his son long ago—shown as a poignant moment of realization that Smith delivers powerfully as Xavier recognizes that it was largely his past choices that have brought the family to where they are today.
The character study also provides fine opportunities for de Ausa, whose edgy portrayal of Jasmine plays particularly well in a confrontation with Abercrumbie, and for Conner, who has more than security on his mind.
This piece is a conversation starter about attitudes between children and parents, students and administrators and a host of other elements in our at-risk communities and across our educational systems. It asks the questions: How do we know where to draw the line on discipline and behavior if the social lines of toleration keep wavering? How does social media impact those areas? And, what is the impact on our children if we do not get it right the first time? Although there is a hopeful conclusion, Morisseau drives home the point that before answers emerge, everyone must really listen to each other, or face the grim reality that it may already be too late.