Nilaja Sun’s Exuberant “Pike St.” is a Must See

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Luckily for the L.E.S., Nilaja Sun’s one-woman show, “Pike St.,” at the Abrons Arts Center, has been extended.  If you haven’t seen this fantastic show yet, especially if you are in any way familiar with this neighborhood, well, hurry up!

The show, which Sun started writing in 2013, shortly after Hurricane Sandy, is about a struggling Puerto Rican family living in a fifth floor walk-up near the Manhattan Bridge, as they prepare to ride out an approaching storm.  The main character, Evelyn, has decided not to move her teenage daughter Candi, whose mysterious aneurysm has rendered her unable to move or breathe on her own, to a shelter.

Evelyn, a former MTA subway operator, has been studying the healing arts, following in the footsteps of her deceased mother, who owned a botanica on Ludlow Street, as a way to cure Candi.

Throughout the day she navigates her philandering father (who has a penchant for strong rum), shopping for candles and supplies, setting up a gas-powered generator, the intrusions of Mrs. Applebaum (a slightly senile neighbor who survived the Holocaust), and the exalted return of her brother Manny, who’s been serving as a Navy SEAL in Afghanistan.

Sun seamlessly embodies these characters, and others, with incredible grace and humor. They come to life so vividly, you’re sure to recognize many Lower East Siders you’ve met on the street, or have even grown up with.

The tension of the oncoming storm, along with her brother’s return and the family’s shared heartbreaks, builds perfectly to a dramatic climax. “Pike St.” brings to life a human story that those who were effected by Sandy, or any other natural disaster, for that matter, will relate to.

This is Sun’s second show created in partnership with the Epic Ensemble Theatre company.  Her first, “No Child,” had a long run off-Broadway and toured internationally, garnering numerous awards, including an Obie Award, a Lucille Lortel Award and two Outer Critics Circle Awards.

Born and raised on Montgomery Street, Sun says it was important for her to debut the show here in the neighborhood, and particularly at Abrons Arts Center.

“Abrons is where I had my first art classes and my mom worked for the home care services at Henry Street. We were a real Henry Street settlement family,” she told me in an interview.

“I’ve always wanted to do a piece about that part of the lower east side,” she said, “I mean the diversity is really insane, if you really think about it.”

“When I went to college in Lancaster, PA, I remember the first day having a crying fit and calling [home] and my pop saying, ‘you know Nilaja, America does not look like the Lower East Side.’ And I did not know that, honestly.”

In college, she said, “you were either ‘white’ or ‘other’.” So she decided to create a show that could reflect some of the various characters that made up her childhood.

She has since moved out of the L.E.S. but has been happy to return and shine a light on the neighborhood.

When I asked about her preparation for the show, which must take an enormous amount of energy each night, she said,

“I spend a lot of time resting, stretching, making sure I’m staying healthy and getting prepped. Then I leave my brain in the dressing room and it’s all heart on stage – heart and soul.”

And how.

Pike St., staring Nilaja Sun and directed by Ron Russell, has been extended through Dec. 19th.  It runs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8:00 pm, with additional matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit Abrons Arts Center for tickets.