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This The Paladin article by Macy Petty was originally published on October 12th, 2022.  (Photo:  Wallace Krebs)


My experiences covering productions at the Warehouse Theatre have taught me to expect to be delighted and moved when I sit down to watch a play. For me, watching compelling dramas in this intimate space has shown how live theatre can recapture that feeling of having a book read to you as child and being completely immersed. However, even in attending the opening of their 2022-2023 season with this in mind, I was not prepared for the experience that was Dominique Morisseau’s Pipeline.

Originally opened in an Off-Broadway production in 2017, this play centers around Nya who teaches at an inner city school but sends her son Omari to a private school upstate for better opportunities. When Omari is involved in an altercation at school and threatened with expulsion, Nya’s fears about the dangers that he faces as a black man come to the surface. As she grasps for control against these forces, she and Omari must work to resolve conflicts within their family while his future is still undecided.

One interesting thing to note is that this play makes reference to the works of other brilliant African American writers such as Richard Wright (Native Son) and Gwendolyn Brooks (“We Real Cool”) to highlight some of its main themes. Knowing these works made the drama even more impactful, so I would suggest doing a little homework and looking into these amazing texts before you come to the play.

Warehouse Theatre’s production of this play, directed by Ahsha Daniels, brought all the catharsis that the source material had to offer and then some. Each of the actors made his or her character’s struggle so real that the emotion in the room was almost too much to handle at times. Danielle Mills allowed us to see all the layers of Nya, her firm exterior as she guided and disciplined her students contrasted beautifully with her desperation to protect Omari and her regret over choices that she felt negatively impacted him. Likewise, Taji Mayberry covered Omari’s hurt with humor and rage until those quiet moments where he brought it brilliantly to the surface. Brain Reeder played Xavier, Omari’s estranged father, with sharp humor that got several laughs from the audience and eventually bubbled into lively displays of frustration over how their family fell apart. The respective scenes between Omari and each of his parents dealt well in revealing truths that had gone unspoken, with Mayberry showing us tears to accompany his character’s rage. Amiya English brought hilarious spunk to Omari’s girlfriend Jasmine as she recounted the struggles of being a person of color in a primarily white school, which turned to heartbreaking tenderness as she pleaded for him to stay with her. Ptah Garvin and Anne Kelly Tromsness brought both outrageous humor and discomforting humanity to Dun, the school resource officer, and Laurie, a veteran teacher who works at the public school with Nya. With their discussions and conflicts about the students’ violent behavior, they highlight systemic struggles within schools of how to protect themselves while protecting the students from each other.

Mayberry, who made his Warehouse Theatre debut in this show, found that the role of Omari really challenged him and expanded his skill set. Stating that he has always been better at bringing out a character’s vulnerability, he said “portraying his [Omari’s] rage and carrying it from scene was very rewarding.” Reeder called the show “eye opening” and condemned his character, Xavier, for his shortcomings as a father. “It made me so self-reflecting about my own son – have I talked to him, helped him learn how to handle situations like the one Omari was in. Omari decides that someone is going to listen to [him] and tells it to the source (his father). I think [my] character should have had a better relationship with his son.”

This production was made even more immersive by the unique sound effects that accompanied many scenes. When a call was being made, the audience heard the dial tones over the speakers in the theatre. When Nya’s thoughts spiraled into possible dangers that Omari could face, heavy breathing covered the dialogue along with excerpts from news reports about instances of police brutality against young black men to illustrate the very real sources of her panic.

Furman English and Theatre Arts major Alysha Matthews (’24) was an assistant stage manager for the show, and explained many ways in which the show was impactful for her:

“I had the pleasure of working on Pipeline at the Warehouse Theatre as the assistant stage manager. It was so inspiring watching Ahsha Daniels and the actors come in day after day and make discoveries and connections in the script. As a black student in a PWI [predominantly white institution], many of Omari’s circumstances and the lessons tucked into this story are so near and dear to my heart. It was lovely working with a predominantly black team who felt the same about this play. Everyone who entered the space to work had such passion for this play and its topic, and that was evident every step of this process. I feel so lucky that I was able to play a part in bringing this play to life on a stage!”

Mike Sablone, artistic director of The Warehouse Theatre, said that he was very excited to produce a play by this writer that he has loved for awhile. “This show is very relevant and human, and I am proud to start the conversation within it,” he said, adding that he hopes that the highs and lows within the show will be “life affirming” to audiences.