If you were living downtown in 2013, you probably remember the strange suspended week of superstorm Sandy. Maybe you lined up at a pay phone, or held up your iPad at that weird 3G oasis on Houston Street, or scooped up half-melted ice cream at the deli, or drank warm beer with your neighbors on Halloween. The storm wreaked havoc downtown (and caused much more destruction in other areas of the city), but for many people in secure locations, it was also a respite from the constant stream of tweets, emails and phone calls, and a chance to reflect, reconnect, and maybe even hook up (just think of the many kids named “Sandy” nine months later).
Center stage, Nilaja Sun’s limbs are twisted into a pretzel as the audience files in for “Pike St.,” her one-woman show currently running at the Abrons Art Center on the Lower East Side. Snippets from radio and television broadcasts warble and blend into each other, as though they’re being heard underwater. Within this small theater, we’re put in the claustrophobic mindset of this solitary character, a teenage girl named Candace, who is wheelchair-bound and trapped – not only on the fifth floor of her LES tenement building as a megastorm á la Sandy approaches, but also in her own mind.
Having once been a star student, Candace is severely brain-damaged, and cannot breathe unaided, talk, feed or wash herself. But, her mother Evelyn insists, she’s still in there, and will one day make a miraculous recovery to fulfill her calling as a Congresswoman.
It’s through Evelyn that we learn about Candi’s larger-than-life Puerto Rican family and their lives on Pike Street, in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. We meet Papi, Candi’s philandering grandfather, and Manny, Evelyn’s brother newly returned from Afghanistan. We meet the eccentric neighbor, Mrs. Applebaum, who tells anyone who will listen to “stop and smell the pickles.” Through their conversations we become acquainted with Evelyn’s late mother, who had a god-given gift for healing and ran a neighborhood botanica – a folk medicine store that sells religious candles and herbal remedies.