If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“NO CHILD…” IS MUST VIEWING AT LONG WHARF     

 

Pity the poor folks who miss Nilaja Sun’s astonishing performance in her solo off-Broadway hit “No Child…” currently at Long Wharf’s Stage II.  This is “event theatre” at its best and certainly the New Haven venue’s most memorable production thus far in what has otherwise been a season of mixed blessings.  It is advised to get tickets before there are none to be had.


Based on her personal experiences as a teaching artist in the Bronx school system, “No Child…” details Sun’s arduous journey as an idealistic teacher attempting to humanize “the worst class at Malcolm X High School” by preparing them for a performance of the period drama, “Our Country’s Good”.  The play within a play involves convicts in an Australian penal colony rehearsing Farquhar’s restoration comedy, “The Recruiting Officer”.    It’s a nearly impossible task for the teacher with many pitfalls along the way and, while sentiment is kept at bay throughout Sun’s clear-eyed drama, it is impossible to emerge from this inspirational and heart-rending story unmoved.


Hartford TheaterWorks’ excellent production of “No Child…” two seasons ago utilized four actors in rotating roles and it was never less than riveting.  Having the original artist playing all the characters (I lost count after the first dozen), however, is a rare treat.  Working on a linoleum-covered stage with only a few cafeteria chairs and some effective sound and lighting effects (credit to designers Ron Russell and Mark Barton), Sun mesmerizes as she switches in an eye-blink from a soft-spoken Asian teacher (hilarious) to a tough-talking, troubled student (frighteningly real).  With the shrug of a shoulder, the lift of an eyebrow, the mere inflection of her voice; Sun brings to life a variety of fascinating characters encompassing a range of differing ages, sexes, races and physical types.  These brilliant incarnations manage to linger long in the memory after an exuberant 70 minutes of often harrowing, uproarious and eventually uplifting drama.


Most importantly, Sun’s message that the arts can transform lives, lighten hearts and show troubled youth a new direction and way out, should never grow old.  There is plenty to be depressed about with the current state of the American educational system and “No Child…” doesn’t gloss over those challenges with pat answers and phony uplift.  Sun faces the problem straight on but also suggests a hopeful, creative alternative.  In the end, she achieves what only true theatre artists can accomplish: she makes us believe.  Don’t miss this performance.  Don’t miss her play.


 “No Child…” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre, Stage II through April 18, 2010.  For further information and ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.


Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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