Puerto Rican neighborhood comes to life at Hartford Stage
Hartford Stage Company, Hartford: When you think about it, so many women carry so many responsibilities on their shoulders and are so weighted down with problems that it’s amazing they can actually stand on two feet. Yet, they do. For instance, take Evelyn, the Puerto Rican protagonist in Obie Award-winning playwright Nilaja Sun’s one-woman play, “Pike St.” now at Hartford Stage. This character, like so many real women has much too much to bear. Sandwiched between her elderly father, Poppi, a womanizer who drinks too much, and her teenage daughter who is severely disabled, she now has to deal with the likelihood of a major hurricane hitting her apartment located in New York’s Lower East Side. Add to this that her brother returns from Afghanistan suffering from PTSD.
Sun, who is best known for her play “No Child…” and who is a fine actress plays all of the characters she wrote. She is a vivacious actress with energy to spare. Starting with a smart move to gain the audience’s attention, the playwright practices breathing lessons with audience participation and ends up swooshing bad vibes away from the stage. It’s as clever as it is effective.
Sun moves like a flash across the stage. She uses all of the actor’s tools to pull off the different personalities she has created. We hear her father’s voice and Evelyn’s voice quite distinctly. Her brother’s voice is also immediately identifiable. Her facial expressions and her body language are so acute that you begin to imagine how these fictional characters actually look. They all look different even though it’s just one actress. However, the Jewish and Asian visitors are merely stereotypes, compared to Sun’s more vividly realized characters.
Bringing the Puerto Rican experience to the stage, Sun includes religion, parenting and important issues such as citizenship in this 80-minute, no intermission production. What comes across well is the spirituality of this devoted Puerto Rican mother who lights candles all over the apartment in case the storm blows out the electricity. There were some accent issues, especially when Sun spoke especially fast, but overall, the audience knows which character is speaking and what action is taking place. Some of the idioms that were familiar to a few in the audience who laughed and clapped at unique phrases were lost among others.
Directed by Ron Russell, who is also the sound designer for the production, Sun’s every move is well blocked and well paced. Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams is the scenic designer for a most minimal set consisting of a single chair on stage and shelves for all the candles.
This production plays through Feb. 2. Box office: 860-527-5151.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a current member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.