GET IN ON THE TEEN SCENES
TEEN REVIEWERS AND CRITICS
LINKS TO OTHER COOL STUFF
Ivana Reviews No Child at the Barrow Street Theatre
Is Nilaja Sun schizophrenic? Or is she just a good actor? In No Child... Sun shows that she is the latter, an incredible actor and playwright who can switch characters with the drop of a dime -- or in her case, a click of the tongue. She plays over a dozen characters, and somehow manages to run the whole show flying solo. Sun's one-woman play is smart, well written, touching and hilarious all at once.
No child... is based on Sun's eight years of experience as a teaching artist in the New York City school system. It takes place in the Bronx, at the Malcolm X High School, where Sun is enlisted to enrich the lives of students in the alleged "worst class in the school." There are a series of ups and downs as she comes to realize that she cannot give up on these students, and as the students learn that there is more to life than the Bronx.
Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this play was Sun's stunning versatility. She switched from janitor to teaching artist to gangster to student in the blink of an eye. Her facial expressions became fluid as she transformed herself into each character. Sun never faltered. The only person on stage, Sun carries the whole show on her shoulders effortlessly. Sun must be a master at observing people, because she mastered her characters with impressive authenticity.
The characters themselves are universal, which gives the play much of its nuanced hilarity, as well as its clichéd moments, unfortunately. Everyone is familiar with a character like Jerome Robbins, a leader-of-the-class gangster who is secretly a budding actor, but whether you are a student in a school like Malcolm X High or a film buff who has seen Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart (1999), Sun's predictable student personalities always manage to touch a chord or incite hysterical laughter. Jam-packed with jokes ranging from obvious satire to literary references (e.g. Arthur Miller in heaven), the 70-minute play utilizes every single second.
Always ending on an uplifting note, Sun finishes off the play with her epilogue conclusion, embracing her formulaic characters and becoming wistful about the future of her students. Shandrika, the stereotypical diva student who got pregnant, ends up graduating summa cum laude at Harvard University and being the first black woman to be elected president. In a perfect world, Sun's students have bright futures and she gets to revise the "No Child Left Behind" act.
However, once you step out of the theatre and the side-splitting subsides, No child... is deeper than a play about a group of kids who rise above the ashes -- it is a candid look at our city's school system and what a typical child's education is like. In a post-9/11 society where tragic events like Columbine still linger, metal detectors, brutal security officers and a deficit of quality teachers plague New York City schools. Even though the stage is made up of bare walls of peeling powder-blue paint, Sun's teaching artist character does not let the bleak prospects of a high school classroom discourage her. The play shows that, in the eight years that Sun has been a teaching artist, she still approaches the daunting problem with hope and humility.
Hopefully, No child... has taught us to regard children's education with the same faith and commitment.