Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
No Child ...
Also see Susan's review of Cookin' at the Cookery
With No Child ..., writer-performer Nilaja Sun's solo depiction of the everyday world of an inner-city New York high school, Sun joins Anna Deavere Smith and Sarah Jones in demonstrating a mastery of this intensely disciplined form. She brings to life men and women of all ages, races and classes and she does it without makeup or changes of costume.
In No Child ..., Sun distills her experiences as a teaching artist into a vivid and fast-moving performance that lasts slightly more than an hour. The setting is the fictional Malcolm X High School in the poorest part of the Bronx, where Sun has been hired to introduce a class of underachievers to the thrill of live theater. Because no one has ever expected much from these students, they don't care about getting to school on time, doing the assignments, or even trying to keep up.
Guided by director Hal Brooks, Sun uses only her posture, her voice and her malleable face to embody the school's elderly janitor, dragging one stiff leg; the inexperienced, frequently flustered young Asian-American woman teaching the class and her successor, a no-nonsense woman with a Russian accent; the exasperated principal, who hopes that Sun's efforts will help the students pass their standardized tests under the federal "No Child Left Behind" program; and the students, most of whom are dealing with major problems in their personal lives.
Sun never sugarcoats or romanticizes the situation; she's angry when the students refuse to pay attention to her, and exasperated by the lack of support from the faculty and administration. She worries that the play she has selected Our Country's Good, a British drama about convicts in 18th-century Australia discovering their humanity through producing a play may send the wrong message to her students: is she saying she thinks they will have no future but prison?
The bare-bones set, originally designed by Narelle Sissons and adapted by Daniel Ettinger, conveys the grim hopelessness of the school through its details: the coat of grime on the rear wall, the rusty water stain to one side.
Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company