Edinburgh review: Pike St. (Summerhall)

Nilaja Sun stars in this one-woman show set on the Lower East Side as a hurricane is coming

© Teresa Castracane

American performer Nilaja Sun gives an absolute lesson in how to act in this one-woman piece about a second generation immigrant family living on the Lower East Side in New York. She plays every character, from disabled daughter, to elderly dad, to pumped up returning-from-war brother. The stage is filled with the cackle and hustle of daily life in all its forms. Shows featuring one performer merging from role to role onstage are a regular at the fringe, but here it’s done with oodles more grace and truth than most.

It’s not just the acting. Sun wrote the piece too and it is a jumpy, funny, energetic ride through the world of a bunch of people trying to get by. The characters are delicately, expertly drawn, from the way they swear to the way they mix Puerto Rican and English. Starting from the very personal, the show slowly pans out to offer us a bigger picture, until Sun has painted an immaculate portrait of what it means to be a struggling family living in New York today.

At the centre of this family is the silent Candi, a teenager now, who suffered a brain aneurysm a few years back and hasn’t been able to eat, speak or breathe on her own since. Looking after her in their flat is her mum Evelyn, learning to be a healer, and her sex-mad abuelo, downstairs there’s the Alzheimer-suffering lady, who helped to deliver Candi, but now confuses past and present, exposing her latent racism. Evelyn’s Navy SEAL brother has been away fighting but he's due back today. He’s not been drinking coffee or alcohol and he’s been shunning carbs. But the moment he’s back in town, his cleaner-living ways are thrown out the block window. His papi offers him rum, his friend weed and his mind quickly begins to show the strain it's been under.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s a hurricane on the way which, Evelyn knows, will likely bring with it power cuts and chaos. A storm is worse than most for this family – with no electricity Candi’s dialysis machine won’t function. It’s a day that builds and builds until the storm arrives and everything bursts.

Sun catches all the ups and downs, loves and losses of a normal family just trying to get by. The text is rich and vivid and the evocation of the characters is completed perfectly by her performance. It’s not hard to follow who she is playing – she inhabits each persona completely.

Spending some time in this neighbourhood is funny but also very real. Though the ending falls off a little – it finishes too fast and relies too quickly on fantasy – you nevertheless feel as though you have spent 75 minutes with an extraordinary collection of people.

Pike St. runs at Roundabout at Summerhall until 27 August, 15.00.

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