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The Liberty Visits Dublin Theatre Festival

This week, The Liberty visited Pike St. in the Smock Alley Theatre on Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8. This production was part of the annual Dublin Theatre Festival. 

Pike St. is a one-woman’s show by Nilaja Sun about a mother desperate to power a generator as a hurricane approaches in order to keep her daughter’s support machines switched on. 

In the build up to the impending natural disaster, the audience meets an abundance of colourful characters, all played by the talented Sun.

Upon entering the tiered and intimate setting of the iconic Smock Alley, theatregoers observe Sun with her eyes closed and sitting perfectly still on a red chair. The only others on-stage props are two shelving units filled top to bottom with candles. 

The show begins with muffled music, voices and news reports. Through the faint noise, a soothing voice can be heard, along with the harrowing deliverance of the nearby hurricane. Sun begins to frantically watch the crowd, before jumping up to ask “You feel good?” She then seemingly sweeps the bad energy off of the audience before pushing it out the lower door of the theatre.

The lights then darken, and the noise of a storm can be heard. 

Sun starts the show as Evelyn, mother to Candi, a young girl who suffered a brain aneurysm years before. We see Evelyn as a vibrant, caring mother who, given the circumstances, is incredibly perky and positive. 

Through the course of the hour and a half show, we meet Evelyn’s father, a horny widower who winds his children up as often as he takes a shot of rum, and her brother Manny who, having just returned from serving in the army where he saved two fellow soldiers, is seen as a hero. 

We in turn meet the friends, lovers and neighbours that surround the main characters. Sun’s flawless performance constantly switches between personalities, body language and general behaviour. Although it’s always the same actress in her denim shirt and red trousers, we begin to envisage the characters she’s playing. 

Sun’s true talent can be seen when she transforms into Candi. The stage becomes dark, and the candles provide the only light. Low music with muffled voices of the characters around her play as she portrays this teenage girl who is completely physically disabled. To see an actress take on a role like this was certainly something different, but it was done so tastefully and effectively that Sun can only be applauded for this. 

What was also to be praised was the consistency and the general flow of Pike St as Sun effortlessly switches between characters. She also interacts with imaginary objects that make sound effects, and hence broaden our immersion in the world she is painting. For instance, when she clicks a “button” the sound changes to indicate a new channel on the television. Such precision is what made the performance run so smoothly.

Throughout the show, we are brought back and forward to different moments in the characters’ lives, including the incredible story of how their late mother rids herself of the illness that had left her bed ridden. In this scene, Sun interacts with the crowd in the same way she did when the show began. This really helped piece together the story and brought it to a full circle. 

The ending of Pike St. is simultaneously harrowing and inspiring, when we learn the fate of the family during Hurricane Sandy. Without spoiling anything, we once again are brought to what feels like a full circle and in all honesty, it was hard not to grow emotional at the outcome.

It’s strange to be left feeling simultaneously uplifted and heartbroken at the conclusion of a show, but that is the magic of Pike St. 

If you get the opportunity to see Sun in action, we definitely recommend you take it!

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