Victory Gardens Theater presents PIPELINE Review- A Closer Look Inside A Failing System

The lights go up on Nya (Tyla Abercrumbie), a modestly dressed woman, professional and put together, but the disturbed tone in her voice indicates otherwise. She’s leaving an important voicemail about what we learn to be her only son, Omari (Matthew Elam), who’s away at a private boarding school. A lanyard hangs from her neck, indicating her possible location. In between multiple attempts at crafting the perfect voicemail she takes swift drags from her cigarette.  This woman seems stressed. A school bell rings aggressively, and Nya checks her surroundings before rushing back indoors. Ah... yes, she’s a teacher!

If there are no Goldstar Discounts when you click here, make sure to check the theater website to find out the full-price ticket availability.

Constant anxiety nags and takes an emotional toll on Nya, a mother to an at-risk child.  She also works at a underserved high school. Her  uneasiness at times is difficult to watch, such as moments when she  frantically searches for a cigarette through her desk. At times we are thrust into a whirlwind of emotionally charged energy and distress, which fills the minimally decorated  teacher break room. It is here where the other teachers and staff members are introduced, and give us a closer look inside a failing system.

Victory Gardens Theater PIPELINE
Matthew Elam, Aurora Real de Asua.
Victory Gardens Theater PIPELINE
Matthew Elam.

The breakroom is a hub for refuge where staff seek support and understanding they can only truly receive from one another. At one point we see Laurie (Janet Ulrich Brooks), a veteran teacher with the  mouth of a sailor, burst into the break room as if she’s fleeing a war-zone. She decompresses into a chair, and scarfs down her packed lunch while venting about her solution to the school’s shortcomings. Dropping F-bombs along the way, and hopping from one thought to the next, it’s through Laurie’s manic dialogue that we get a glimpse into the chaos that occurs in the classrooms.

We witness Nya’s personal anxiety through her hallucinations. Her son appears on stage in a blue jumpsuit top, arms cuffed behind his back, and a look of remorse across his face. This is a stark contrast to the neatly pressed maroon private-school uniform he’s typically donning. Haunted Nya struggles through a lesson plan, pausing for moments to refocus on the poetry she’s teaching. The poem she’s discussing is projected in classical font overhead, and to her left we see the same poem in graffiti style writing, and her  son Omari standing in front.. As Nya’s reads the poem her son’s body tells it though through powerful gestures. He moves with intention, his upper body movements are jagged, sharp, and sometimes restrictive. He stops and throws both his hands up in defense, a gesture implying an act of surrendering to a higher force. Mother and son-- on stage at the same time, articulating the same poem, but from two very different perspectives.  It’s powerful and intense-- and just one small . sliver of the multiple layers in the characters’ worlds that this script so expertly brings to life.

Victory Gardens Theater PIPELINE
Tyla Abercrumbie, Mark Spates Smith.
Victory Gardens Theater PIPELINE
Tyla Abercrumbie, Matthew Elam

Victory Gardens Theater Shines a Light on Important Issue

A brilliant ensemble honestly portrays a life that many of us will never have to experience. For 90 minutes we are immersed in an array of perspectives that one hopes will help create much needed empathy and support for those directly involved and affected by our public school system.  This is an especially timely play, in this writer’s view.  We need dialogue about the epidemic that is swallowing so many of our country’s youth and channeling them from failed schools into prison. Pipeline tells this story and tells it well.

Victory Gardens Theater PIPELINE
Tyla Abercrumbie, Matthew Elam.


Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves. 


Dominique Morisseau (Playwright)
Cheryl Lynn Bruce (Director)
Tyla Abercrumbie (Nya)
Ronald L. Conner (Dun)
Matthew Elam (Omari)
Aurora Real de Asua (Jasmine)
Mark Spates Smith (Xavier)
Janet Ulrich Brooks (Laurie)

Andrew Boyce (Scenic Design)
Kristy Hall (Costume Design)
Eric Southern (Lighting Design)
Josh Schmidt (Sound Design)
Eleanor Kahn (Props Design)
Skyler Gray (Dramaturg)
Amanda Davis (Production Stage Manager)


Thru March 3, 2019

Tuesday- Friday at 7:30pm
Saturday at 3:00pm and 7:30pm
Sunday at 3:00pm


Victory Gardens Theater
2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

If there are no Goldstar Discounts when you click here, make sure to check the theater website to find out the full-price ticket availability.

For tickets and information call the Victory Gardens Box Office at 773.871.3000, or visit the Victory Gardens website.

Photos by Liz Lauren

Note: Picture This Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago

Jordan Rome

About the Author: Jordan Rome

Jordan Rome is an actress turned director/ writer/filmmaker working and living in Chicago, IL. She received her BFA in 2014 from DePaul University in PR and Advertising and Community Service Studies. She uses solo performance and film to deconstruct our understanding of race and body politics in America. She draws inspiration through the intimate exploration of Self and Source, both which she believes are spiritually and equally intertwined.

The professional work she’s accomplished in Chicago’s theatre/film include MPAACT Theater’s, Illinois Caucus of Adolescent Health youth theatre program, Collaboraction Theatre, Theater Momentum, VAM Studios, and Soft Cage Films.

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