Khalil Kain, who makes his City Theatre debut in Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline as Xavier, says he didn’t need much convincing from director and City Theatre artistic producer Reginald L. Douglas to take the part.
“As an artist and as an actor, I feel like I should have this [play] in my body,” says the longtime stage, screen and TV actor.
Pipeline is a 2017 play that tells the story of Omari (Carter Redwood), who is suspended from his prestigious — and mostly white — private school due to an encounter with his teacher. From there, his mother Nya (Nambi E. Kelley) watches her son’s future disappear before her eyes. Nya must fight for her son’s future without turning her back on the community that made him. City Theatre last performed a Morisseau work in 2015 with Sunset Baby.
According to Douglas, the play explores the harsh realities of the school-to-prison pipeline. That is accomplished onstage through projections designed by Adam J. Thompson, a third-year MFA student at Carnegie Mellon University, through music composed by 1Hood Media Academy, through lighting designed by Andrew David Osrowski and a set that puts the audience close to the action.
“The hope is that the audience feels connected to this world,” Douglas says.
To make connections within the community, City Theatre partnered with 1Hood Media Academy, a local artist and activist collective, Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama and Point Park University Conservatory of Performing Arts.
Along with that, multiple events in coordination with the show explore its themes: a 10-minute long conversation with African-American female arts leaders follows every performance of Pipeline and, on Oct. 30, Douglas, Kain and Emmai Alaquiva, an Emmy Award winning Pittsburgh-based filmmaker, will have a conversation with other African-American men.
Douglas says that these community aspects embody the theater’s mantra of “your world, our stage.”
“This is a story that’s about the world we’re living in … the realities of race in our country, the realities of history in our country, but also the extreme hope and love that grounds the African-American experience,” he says. “Our job is to use theater to share that story in a way that hopefully deepens understanding and connects people of different races and ages and neighborhoods together.”
Although the play has a heavy subject matter, Douglas says he’s impressed by the actors’ ability to bring out the hope Morisseau — who recently was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant — incorporates.
“I sit in rehearsal just smiling and laughing going ‘mmm’ all the time because the specificity and nuance and joy that these actors are bringing out in these characters is unbelievable,” Douglas says.
Kain says that, for him, finding that joy and playing this role is a form of self-care.
“This is a way for me to feel better about walking in the world as a black man, as a black artist.” he says. “The voice that she’s [Dominique Morisseau] giving to these characters is just so clear and distinct.”