Nilaja Sun brings “Pike St.,” her show about New Yorkers preparing for a hurricane, to Berkeley Rep in its West Coast premiere. (Courtesy Teresa Castracane)

Nilaja Sun brings “Pike St.,” her show about New Yorkers preparing for a hurricane, to Berkeley Rep in its West Coast premiere. (Courtesy Teresa Castracane)

Nilaja Sun is dazzling as everyone on ‘Pike St.’

A contorted character, not speaking, with eyes closed and arms crossed over her chest, sits onstage as patrons enter Berkeley Repertory Theatre for the West Coast premiere of “Pike St.,” actor-writer Nilaja Sun’s charged, often funny, solo show set in New York’s Lower East Side.

This disabled person, in the spotlight from the start, is hard to ignore.

But Sun (who brought her well-received “No Child” to Berkeley Rep in 2008) then morphs into a smiling, matronly lady, who welcomes the audience after shooing seemingly bad spirits out from the room and inviting everyone to take a deep breath.

When the dialogue begins, she’s yet another character, Evelyn, the mom of Candi, the teen at the show’s prelude who’s on life support. Evelyn’s doing battle on the phone with the electric company, trying to ensure the generator in her apartment will keep Candi’s respirator and dialysis machine working when an impending hurricane hits.

Under direction by Ron Russell, the dazzling, fleet-footed Sun masterfully plays all of the other characters, too, over a compact 80 minutes.

Among them are: Evelyn’s senile Jewish neighbor Mrs. Applebaum, who thinks Martin Luther King Jr. died of cancer; her sex-crazed, rum-loving, fast-talking Puerto Rican father Papi; the sassy Spanish-accented Migdalia, who sexually services Papi (“What am I, an immigrant?” she asks, to which Evelyn hilariously replies “Yes, you are”); Evelyn’s war-hero brother Manny, just returning that very day from Afghanistan, displaying symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; and Manny’s joking, pot-smoking African-American pal Tykeen.

Each vividly comes to life as one day in the neighborhood plays out in unexpected ways and the characters come to terms with stresses in their lives — perhaps metaphors to the storm on the way.

Sun displays empathy for all, but most particularly Evelyn, who compellingly tells her not too sensitive father that Candi, who cannot speak or eat, can “feel the vibration of resentment.” It’s a rare, thoughtful, attentive depiction of a unique mother and daughter.

Evelyn, who gave up her day job working for the transit authority to care for her needy child, and who goes to class to become a healer — the simple set has shelves filled with her prayer-laden candles — also takes after own mother, the late Dona Lola, the spirit woman at the top of the show who banishes evil from the room. Dona Lola, we learn, once owned a botánica, but didn’t charge her customers for her healing services.

Although “Pike St.” ends on a darker, more contemplative and somber note than some of the humor at the outset suggests, like its loving, powerful mothers and daughters, it’s all about humans’ need for faith and healing.

REVIEW
Pike St.
Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Where: Peet’s Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. some Tuesdays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 Sundays; closes Dec. 16
Tickets: $30 to $85
Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.orgBerkeley Repertory TheatreNilaja SunPike St.Ron RussellTheater

Just Posted

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — seen in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday — touted Congressional Democrats’ infrastructure bill in San Francisco on Thursday. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times)
Pelosi touts infrastructure bill as it nears finish line

Climate change, social safety net among major priorities of Democrats’ 10-year funding measure

Most Read