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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

Dominique Morisseau’s play, Pipeline, is an American tragedy, filled with themes of American life and it’s challenges, and packed with confrontations. There are themes of parenting, loyalty, divorce, education, growth, love, hate, rage, failure, turmoil, hope and consequences. Although mainly set in an African-American family’s attempt for a better tomorrow, it unveils the universally troubling problems we all face in our attempts to lift our children to a more promising future, as well as the challenges on both sides of that issue – for the lifters and the lifted.

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Cole Taylor as student Omari, in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

High school teacher Nya’s world is turned inside out by the trouble caused by her son Omari’s violent actions at the private school he attends. While very intelligent, Omari possesses an “ominous rage” that has reached strike three on his school conduct record and he is now in danger of losing his spot in the prestigious school. He himself is also troubled by the consequence of failure and feels separate from: a father he does not respect, the expectations of his ever hopeful mother and the life he now has spoiled with his actions.

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Xavier (Andre Garner, right) explains his position to Nya (Aime Donna Kelly) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Side two of the drama illuminates the difficulties educators have with the task of teaching youths who do not wish to learn, who have violence as an answer, and who care not for anything, including themselves and their futures.

In some ways, Pipeline is a pointed indictment of the system that cannot quell the problems of these youths. In others, it highlights the futility of our own attempts to do so.

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Jasmine (Renika Williams, left) is confronted by Nya (Aime Donna Kelly) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Director Raelle Myrick-Hodges’ cast for the play is simply tremendous. Aimé Donna Kelly’s intense portrayal of Nya, the mother, is filled with the overwhelming strife and fear of a parent without any answers to the problems her child brings. Cole Taylor is flawless and sharp in the part of Omari, bringing a great amount of truth and honesty to a difficult role. Omari’s girlfriend, Jasmine, is offered by Renika Williams, with an aptly unsure dreaminess, while Omari’s off-site father, Xavier, is presented with abrupt candor by André Garner.

Toussaint Jeanlouis and Constance Macy round out the cast as two of Nya’s often frustrated school colleagues, caught in the turmoil of the public education system and its many faults.

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Omari (Cole Taylor, left) confronts his father, Xavier (Andre Garner) in IRT’s production of “Pipeline”

Director Myrick-Hodges has placed her cast at a very high emotion level. There are a lot of intense and loud exchanges as the characters display their fear, their anger, and their frustrations. A good 50% of the dialogue is shouted, it seems, and that, to this writer’s senses suggests a bit too much hysteria for a staging. Surely these characters have much to be disappointed by and to be afraid of, but I submit – there is a variety of levels to employ to express a character’s miseries, all of which are not as strident.

That said, through the onslaught of high volume exchanges, the themes and crises come to light with a brilliance. The family’s problems are notably unresolved at the finish, but that is surely intentional as we are clearly left with a good measure of hope. And hope is all we ever really have in these circumstances, after all.

The story is enhanced by the creativity of Junghyun Georgia Lee’s clever set design, Xavier Pierce’s lighting design, and Ari Fulton’s costumes. Also noteworthy is Reuben Lucas’ amazing projection design, which is hugely illustrative.

Pipeline will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through November 11th. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing
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