A Different Version of No Child….Manages to Make Its Mark.
In 2007, a young woman, Nilaja Sun, wrote and performed solo a play called No Child…, Off Broadway. Based on her experiences of being a teaching artist in the Bronx public schools, this was an impressive work which garnered many awards, most particularly the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Best New American Playwright. I did not have the time or pleasure of seeing her performance at the Barrow Street Theater in New York, and so I was especially interested in this production at Hartford Theatre Works.
Without qualification, the one hour and fifteen minute play without intermission is excellently directed by Rob Ruggiero. Four actors play a number of characters, costumed creatively by Peg Carbonneau. Donetta Lavinia Grays is bright and intelligent as theater-teacher Ms. Sun, who struggles to achieve success for herself and her students; Lizan Mitchell is marvelous as narrator/old time janitor and a mumbling student, who learns to speak with heart and tongue; Portia is both a wild and crazy student and the authoritative and caring principal, Ms. Kennedy, and Anthony Mark Stockard is grand playing several roles, a straight guy, a girl named Shrondika, and a Spanish fellow whose brother is killed. However, Ruggerio, the theater’s Associate Artistic Director, has chosen to cast three extra actors in addition to one. Therefore we are left to imagine how extraordinary Ms. Sun, the playwright and actress, must have been portraying all the roles. I do look forward to seeing that tour de force in the future.
The action takes place on Set Designer Brian Prather’s falling-apart classroom at Malcolm X High School in the Bronx; (The lighting is by John Lasiter.) it follows Ms. Sun, played brightly by Ms. Grays, as she tries to teach, against all odds, a recalcitrant group of students, the toughest in the school, a play entitled My Country’s Good, which tells the tale of convicts in Australia. Its theme, “man is born free,” resonates with these emotionally abused students, who are dealing with Regents exams, language problems, i.e.-- they confuse the word Thespians with Lesbians-- and gang killings.
Our audience was comprised of the usual middle-aged people combined with many students who brought a dynamic reaction to the play, No Child. The students howled with laughter in the right places and were moved in others. They got it, because they are living it.
No Child… contains Profanity. It will play at Hartford Theatre Works through October 5.
This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts Radio.