Thursday, March 22, 2012

NO CHILD • The Black Rep

There's a lot packed into Nilaja Sun's play that garnered Lucille Lortel, Outer Critics Circle, Theatre World and Obie Awards when it opened off-Broadway in 2006.

The title of the play is a reference to the No Child Left Behind Act that ended up putting school test scores ahead of curriculums that often included the arts.  Sun draws on her own experience as a teaching artist in the New York City school system and delivers a play about the failures, struggles, successes and expectations of the students within the fictional Malcolm X High School in the Bronx.  These kids have been, for the most part, written off, and this lively one-act shares the perspective of a teacher taking on one of the "worst classes in school" in an attempt to get these 10th graders to learn, rehearse, and perform a play -- Our Country's Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

Patrese D. McClain stars in the
one-woman show NO CHILD
Photo credit: Stewart Goldstein
The characters include the janitor who has been at the school since the 50's.  He serves as our narrator.  Then we've got our teachers like Ms. Sun, our enthusiastic, hopeful teaching artist, and timid Ms. Tam, often cruelly jeered by the students for her Asian descent, and Mrs. Kennedy, the upright, uptight principal of the school.  Then there are the students -- the sass-mouthed Shondrika, a testosterone-filled rebel rouser named Jerome, the overactive Brian, the incredibly shy and soft-spoken Phillip, and then some.  Oh, did I mention this is a one-woman show?  An impressive Patrese D. McClain plays all 16 roles with distinct characterizations of a multitude of multi-cultural roles.  Quite a task.  But under Joe Hanrahan's direction, McClain is up to it.  She changes roles with lightning speed from the teachers to the students to our elderly janitor and a Jamaican security guard with a quick adjustment in posture, expression and dialect.

The unruly and resistant students are skeptical of Ms. Sun and the idea of putting on a play, but as the story unfolds (predictably, but still pretty cool to watch), you get the feeling that the arts may be a more enriching undertaking than math or science.

Brian Purlee's set features three textured walls with projections by Sean Savoie that inform the different locations.  Savoie also designed the lighting, Robin Weatherall designed the sound, and Linda Kennedy provides McClain with a simple outfit for her various representations.  The array of characters can be a lot to digest, but I have to admit, this play grew on me once I left the theatre and thought about it, and the overall portrait is one that is compelling.


Written by Nilaja Sun
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
through April 1 | tickets: $35 - $47
Performances Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Patrese D. McClain* (Janitor Baron, Ms. Sun, Ms. Tam, Coca, Jerome, Brian, Shondrika, Xiomara, Jose, Chris, Mrs. Kennedy, Security Guard, Phillip, Mrs. Projensky, Mr. Johnson, Dona Guzman). 
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Brian Purlee; lighting/projection design by Sean Savoie; costume design by Linda Kennedy; sound design by Robin Weatherall; stage manager, Tracy D. Holliway-Wiggins.

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