No Child... by Nilaja Sun. Directed by Johanna Gruenhut.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Eliabeth Wilson as Jerome: photo: Ryan Harlow
Wilson as Philip; photo: Ryan Harlow
"A play should make you understand something new."
Setting: The Bronx, Present Day. Place: A school, Malcolm X High School. Enter a janitor, male, elderly, bent and bow-legged pushing a mop listening to music. He cleans an empty classroom, decrepit, floors bent and damaged, desk of old steel, chair covered in old naugahide. The old man is played by Elizabeth Wilson who, in short order, becomes four different teachers - three female and one male, a principal and a whole host of students and even a grandparent. Her characters are Black, Hispanic, White, Young, Old, both sexes. These characters play out lengthy scenes with as many as seven characters deep in conversation at any one time. This is the world created by actress and teacher Nilaja Sun and in Weston, Vermont at the Weston Playhouseís Second Stage, Nilaja Sun is very much present in Wilsonís capable hands.
The story in Sunís play is a true one, a rendition of her own experiences in the inner city school system teaching a special program of theater education to minority students, tenth grade variety. It reflects the Bush Administrationís "no child left back" concept, but only on the surface, not in depth. The story here has more to do with one womanís flight into the black hole of reality in education today. The play has heart and humor and memorable characters. It also has the slight trouble inherent in such a story: thereís been a lot of special educations tales on stage and screen of late and while this one is compelling and interesting it doesnít really add a lot of new information to the mix.
Wilson does a wonderful job converting her voice and body back and forth from character to character: Jerome, the ring-leader of his class, Shondrika who has too much wisdom but not enough "smarts." Philip who has insecurity issues galore, Chris, a Jamaican outsider, a police guard at the metal detector check-point in the school, Brian who constantly wants to get down, Mrs. Tam, the classroom teacher and Mrs. Kennedy, the principal. All of them are wonderful and she has the knack of differentiation down pat. She switches them, sometimes mid-sentence, and we always know exactly who she is at any given moment.
The set, designed by Timothy R. Mackabee is perfectly rendered and it holds a few surprises. Travis McHaleís lighting is well-keyed to the moods and emotions of the play while Rachel Kurlandís single costume actually functions well for many of the different characters but misses on a few.
Seeing this production late in its run - it closes today - is unfortunate for this is something that more people should have had the opportunity to know about, to see and to recommend to others. Still, another production - hopefully with the author/actor or with Miss Wilson - will come along and it should not be missed. It takes mono-drama into a new realm and it deserves attention.
Last minute tickets may be available for the final performance of this play. Call the box office at 802-824-5288.