Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Studio Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Andrea Harris Smith and Justin Weaks
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Playwright Dominique Morisseau has a gift for turning everyday language into poetry, which the production of her play Pipeline at Washington's Studio Theatre exemplifies. In an 80-minute run time, the play and the author lay out the ways in which higher education fails to support the students who need it the most—and, more importantly, doesn't suggest that a single answer exists.

As directed with subtlety and empathy by Awoye Timpo, the play immediately engulfs the audience in a student brawl outside a high school, through Alexandra Kelly Colburn's larger-than-life projection design and Fan Zhang's immersive sound. Arnulfo Maldonado has designed a bland institutional setting that becomes both the inner-city school where Nya (Andrea Harris Smith) teaches and the elite private school where she sends her son Omari (Justin Weaks).

Nya works with a population of poor, mostly minority students dealing with unfairly enforced disciplinary rules that punish misbehavior in a way that contributes to a "school-to-prison pipeline." She believes the solution lies in education: the heart of Morisseau's, and Nya's, philosophy is Gwendolyn Brooks' 1959 poem "We Real Cool," which sums up the lives of teenage boys who believe they have nothing to lose or gain. The bitter irony is that Omari has the advantages of a premium education, but it doesn't meet his needs either.

Weaks is deeply affecting as a young man whose privilege doesn't protect him, but Smith is the driving onstage force as a woman, a teacher, and a mother whose efforts to help amount to "fighting gravity." Providing dark comic relief are Nya's co-workers, a tough teacher (Pilar Witherspoon) who wonders whether corporal punishment has a role in the classroom and an affable security guard (Ro Boddie), while Nya's emotionally remote ex-husband (Bjorn DuPaty) and Omari's girlfriend (Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez) add other perspectives.

Studio Theatre
January 15th - February 16th, 2020
In the Mead Theatre
By Dominique Morisseau
Nya: Andrea Harris Smith
Omari: Justin Weaks
Jasmine: Monica Rae Summers Gonzalez
Xavier: Bjorn DuPaty
Laurie: Pilar Witherspoon
Dun: Ro Boddie
Directed by Awoye Timpo
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-332-3300 or