I have very little memory of the first NYC production (1992) of the acclaimed play Marvin’s Room (1990). I have an only-vague impression of finding it an uneasy mix of sincerity and near-surrealism that…well, I don’t remember whether I liked it or not. I think I understood why so many other people seemed to cotton to it, but I personally wasn’t feelin’ the love. Or if I was, it just refused to stick. It may or may not be a barometer of anything that, despite the auspicious success of its first, fresh exposures, and a well-regarded film adaptation five years later, the play nonetheless vanished from public consciousness and the general repertoire of plays regularly performed, not long thereafter.
I cannot, online, locate the source of this aphorism (I remember being told it was George Bernard Shaw), but whoever said it was wise nonetheless, when he advised that, in the dramatization of ideological conflict, you give your villain, or anyway, your antagonist, the best arguments. That’s almost literally what’s going on in Dominique Morriseau’s Pipeline (at the Mitzi Newhouse in Lincoln Center).
Put over-simply, it’s the story of Omari (Namir Smallwood) a high school age, inner city black kid with a history of behavior problems, who has just become a third-strike offender when he pushed a teacher. When the play starts, he is running off, leaving behind his girlfriend (Heather Velasquez)—and leaving his mother Nya (Karen Pittman), who is also a teacher, to find him and then figure out how to navigate school and legal authorities…and her ex-husband, Omari’s father, Xavier (Morocco Omari), a white-collar professional who thinks it’s time to be the hands on single parent. Collateral but related drama involves Laurie (Tasha Lawrence), a white colleague of Nya’s, whose tough “survivalist” technique gets unexpectedly tested; and school security man Dun (Jaime Lincoln Smith), who is all too aware of being just one man in a house of many doors.