Review: Pipeline at the Horizon Theatre
Pipeline at the Horizon Theatre plays the truth in every moment and that’s why it’s the best play running in Atlanta.
The Horizon Theatre presents MacArthur Genius grant recipient, Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline. Pipeline which first debuted at Lincoln Center in 2017 proves to be one of her most eloquent discussions on the school to prison pipeline and The struggles young black men face at home and in school. Pipeline is Co-directed by two of Atlanta’s best actors/directors, Tinashe Kajese Bolden and Keith Arthur Bolden. It’s evident that the husband and wife duo understand what this show is about and who it’s for in its direction.
My favorite part of their direction is the influence silence has on the production. Silence is never fully absent, it’s about the music in between the silence that makes the show sing. Another part of their direction I’m in love with is the staging. The staging especially for the “We Real Cool” reprise moments (We real cool is a poem by Gwendolyn brooks that’s heavily featured in the show) is intrinsically captivating. Pipeline‘s staging is intentional and specific and that’s why it works. The staging is also in service of the story and not just making everything look pretty. In some scenes, it’s representative of Nya’s (The main character) mental state or what Omari (Her son) is feeling in that moment.
Pipeline at its core is a show about relationships and the different colors of those relationships.
One thing Dominique is notoriously known for is showcasing every side of an Argument or situation. With Pipeline, the dynamic she showcases is the one between Nya, her son, and her ex husband (mainly). Each person has their moment “in the spotlight” with Nya being the center of it all. We spend the beginning of the show with Nya (played by Wendy Fox Williams) and watching her life unfold when her son’s school career is threatened.
The first part is implicitly Nya forward, she’s the main character so naturally it focuses on her but then it switches. The inciting incident of the show happens when Omari gets into a fight at school. Up to the play’s focus shift, we’ve been looking at the way Nya is handling what’s happening with Omari. After that shift, Omari takes over the wheel as “Lead” with his father next in the lineup.
I love that within this play there’s one part anyone will relate to. No one’s necessarily “wrong” and that’s the genius of the writing. Pipeline is mainly an emotional story, not written in fact but explicitly what a character’s feeling moment to moment, that’s what makes it a human story. At the end, while the audience is trying to figure out where it went wrong, you discover there’s a finger pointing at everyone involved, they all had a part in Omari’s “explosion”. That’s why I love this show! There’ s no clear bad guy or bad moment, it’s just ” What happened?” and “How do we move on?”.
I applaud the horizon for:
1. Particularly choosing this specifically black story as a part of their season.
2. Finding a cast and creative team that could bring this show to life
3. Bringing in the audience for the show
This is the most racially mixed audience i’ve been in at the Horizon. This show like much of Dominique’s work has a very specific audience, Black people. The work is authentic and speaks to our truths as a community. They’re human stories, so naturally everyone finds they can relate to the story but she knows who and what she’s writing for. So shout out to the Horizon for not only doing a show that’s not specifically written for its current audience but also doing the work to bring in the audience the piece is written for.
Pipeline is NOT any easy show.
It’s not a simple show to stage, and emotionally, it is a behemoth. This cast is committed and INVESTED in these characters, these relationships, and this show. Only a special group of actors can live with and engage Pipeline for months at a time. It’s not the type of play that you can “mark” or not fully engage in. This cast is remarkable. You can feel that these characters are larger than just characters to them, they’re extensions of themselves.
It’s a dynamic many POC specifically black families have dealt with and you can see where each person has related to the story. You can see in some moments where the play isn’t just the play anymore but it’s real. They’re playing their truth, whatever it is in that moment and I thank them for it. I thank you for giving a part of yourself to the audience.
Naturally, the three character family dynamic captivated me the entire show.
Wendy Fox Williams is stunning in this performance. Nya is a tough role and the only way it works is the actor has to live in her truth. that’s exactly what she’s doing and the audience feels it! The second part of the dynamic, Xavier is played by Jay Jones. Again, this production is playing into each character as a person, and Jay Jones is playing into the fullness of Xavier. shoutout to the costume department! Jay Jones is killing the style game as Xavier.
Now I can’t get through this without talking about Stephen Ruffin. Before, i’d only seen Stephen in Alliance Theatre’s Shakespeare in Love and now he’s back acting for his life! I’ve never seen another performance like this one, from Atlanta to Broadway, I simply haven’t. Every couple of months, an actor will pop up with a stellar performance in Atlanta and right now it’s happening in Pipeline. Stephen’s performance resonated with me because he was playing my truth. I felt the complexities of his performance because I’d been in that spot. You could see in his pain, his frustration, his tears. It’s more than just a scene for them, it’s real and I thank them for these performances!
The cast features Wendy Fox-Williams, Stephen Ruffin, Asia Howard, Jay Jones, Vicki Ellis Gray, and Lamar K. Cheston. With phenomenal direction and design by Tinashe Kajese- Bolden, Keith Arthur Bolden, Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay, Bradley Bergeron, Sydney Roberts, Mary Parker, Chris Lane, Natalie Parker, and Julianna M. Lee.
Pipeline is running through April 21st at the Horizon Theatre. You can buy tickets here!