- By Nilaja Sun
- Directed by Hal Brooks
- Produced by Woolly Mammoth Theatre
- Reviewed by Joy Jones
Pop quiz question – What’s the name of that show about the brilliant but beleaguered teacher who works with talented but troubled teens in the inner city? It’s an easy question because there are so many potential right answers – ‘Freedom Writers’, ‘Dangerous Minds’, ‘Boston Public’, ‘Stand & Deliver’, ‘To Sir, with Love’, ‘Up the Down Staircase’.
The latest iteration of this familiar theme is No Child by Nilaja Sun playing now at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Even if you’ve never seen the inside of an inner city senior high, you know who you are supposed to find there as a result of countless stories about at-risk youth in a big city school. There’s the girl who gets pregnant, the boy who joins a gang, the teacher who is intimidated by the students. All of these and a few more stereotypes show up in No Child.
But the thing that keeps this from being a tried and tired tale is performer and playwright Nilaja Sun. Sun is the one-woman wonder who plays all the roles in this production. She cleverly morphs into a range of ages, genders and personalities. She begins as the aging school janitor who narrates events at the fictional Malcolm X High in the Bronx. Sun then becomes several teachers, a principal, a parent, a whole classroom of characters plus depicts herself as the teacher-artist. Sun’s elastic face and kaleidoscopic kinetic energy make up in spunk what the play lacks in originality.
The play is based on her experiences as an actor sent to New York City schools to introduce students to Shakespeare through theatre arts. We see a whole semester unfold in 65 minutes which includes a play within the play. The students put on a play, and Sun manages to play all the students who are playing each role in the play within the play. Yes, it sounds convoluted, but she manages to pull it off with a remarkable degree of clarity for each character. Sun is light-handed with the script, giving the audience lots of funny moments even as she makes her more serious points.
No Child has proven itself a crowd and critic pleaser garnering numerous prizes and awards during its off-Broadway run – 2007 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, 2007 Obie Award and a 2007 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance nomination to list a few. It’s not a particularly new and improved offering in the genre of dysfunctional-school-dedicated-teacher stories – don’t expect any novel insights or substantive ideas presented here. But for entertainment value, Sun definitely passes the test.
- Running time: 1:05 minutes with no intermission
- When: thru Feb 17. Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm and 7 pm
- Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre, 641 D Street NW, Washington, DC 20004
- Tickets: $35 – $57
- Info: Call 202-383-3939 or visit the Woolly website
– Guest reviewer Joy Jones is a poet, playwright and educator. She is author of ‘Tambourine Moon’ and ‘Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers’. Her latest play, In Search of Tonto Goldstein, co-authored with Linda Hopper, opens March 31st in New York as part of the Femme-tastic play festival