By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Staff Writer
In March of this year, researchers from Stanford, Harvard and the US Census Bureau released a study about economic attainment in various racial US communities and the results were staggering: “Growing up in a high-income family” the report said “provides no insulation from disparities. Black children born to parents in the top income quintile are almost as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as they are to remain in the top quintile. By contrast, white children born in the top quintile are nearly five times as likely to stay there as they are to fall to the bottom.”
Even black children who lived on the same block as white children were destined to earn less than their neighbors. And the results were driven almost entirely by the economic disparities experienced by black men.
Pipeline continues through November 18. City Theatre, South Side. www.citytheatrecompany.org. 412/431-CITY.
City Theatre presents Pipeline, a play by newly-minted MacArthur Genius Fellowship grantee Dominique Morisseau, which is informed not just by the above horrible statistics, but these additional numbers: Black boys are 3.5x more likely to suspended than white boys and black students are 2.2x more likely to be referred to law enforcement or arrested due to school-related incidents.
Before I go on with the rest of this review, let me just ask this (entirely rhetorical) question – what would happen if any of that were true for white boys? Would such a thing ever be allowed to continue?
In Morisseau’s Pipeline a brittle, no-nonsense woman, Nya, has sacrificed a lot to put her young son Omari into a private prep school “upstate” so that he is removed from the failing schools in their neighborhood, including the school where Nya is a teacher.
There is, however, a problem.
During a recent class discussion of Richard Wright’s Native Son the teacher has repeatedly singled out Omari for his response since, as one of the few African American students at the prep school, his insights might be valuable.
There are very few people on the planet who wouldn’t be offended by such tokenism and when Omari tries to leave the classroom, he bumps against the teacher sending him into the chalkboard … an incident recorded on a cell phone and which has subsequently gone viral. Not only could Omari be expelled but the teacher may press charges and Nya clearly sees the ruinous pipeline ahead for her son.
You’re not likely to find a script more “of the moment” than Pipeline and Morisseau can be credited for bringing the story forward in such an urgent manner. The play is 90 minutes (without intermission) and thanks to Reginald L. Douglas’s supercharged direction the show moves with a dangerous, jittering energy.
Nambi E. Kelley brings to Nya a taut, close-to-snapping power and makes the character’s need to protect her son as furious as her love for him. Carter Redwood, as Omari, is a pressure cooker of rage barely navigating the mine field of systemic racism he is forced to walk. Their scenes together are scalding.
Krystal Rivera, Sheila McKenna, Gabriel Lawrence and Khalil Kain are every bit as compelling and indelible in support roles; Douglas has done a remarkable job forging one playing style from the cast.
I probably do need to say that Pipeline is a little more “soap opera-y” than necessary – it feels at times as though Morisseau is second-guessing her material and throws in some easy “Movie of the Week” sentimentality to keep us involved. But she needn’t bother, the reality Pipeline is dramatizing is dramatic enough.