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A CurtainUp Review
No Child

We're not teaching these kids to be leaders. we're getting them ready for jail.— Sun
Nilaja Sun's one-woman show, No Child, based on her experiences as a teaching artist in New York's inner city schools, has garnered an impressive list of awards, including an Obie, a Lucille Lortel and the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner playwriting award for Outstanding New American Play. For the most part, all this recognition is well deserved.

Now, after its initial limited run at he Barrow Street Theatre, which ended in June 2007, and the subsequent national tour, the show came back to where it started for another limited run, again directed by Hall Brooks.

The story takes place over a few months, when Sun puts together a performance of a play called Our Country's Good, which takes place in a penal colony in New South Wales. The students relate to the play because they feel like prisoners in their school and their community. Still Sun finds it almost impossible to break down the barriers the students have erected against school, adults and authority. But she is determined to teach in the city that raised her. A long-suffering, sympathetic and clear-eyed principal, however, is not enough to keep her on track. Then help comes from the least likely of her students.

Sun is certainly a dynamo on stage. She barely takes a breath as she switches from the school custodian to the school principal, from one cynical and profane student to another, and always back to herself - an earnest, overwhelmed artist trying to ignite a spark in youngsters who have been dulled and degraded by physical, metal and sexual abuse.

Don't however, expect any surprises. Ee know from the very beginning that Sun will eventually triumph. Why else write about the experience? And surely a host of movies and novels have focused on similar miracles performed by dedicated teachers, whether through poetry, dance, the visual arts or simply hard love.

The power of No Child probably does not come from its artistry, although there is a considerable amount here in both Sun's acting and Brooks's able direction. No Child hits us in the gut because it is so true to life.

Anyone who has ever been in a New York City high school, or even watched the behavior of many youngster in the subway at 3 o'clock will recognize the students Sun portrays. Their cynicism and hopelessness is heartbreaking.

Nor can anyone watching No Child help but root for Sun. If anyone can break through to these kids, we most surely want to believe it will be this teacher.

At a time when our children are surrounded by violence in our schools, our streets and sometimes in their own home, No Child should serve as both inspiration and a wakeup call.

No Child
Written and performed by Nilaja Sun
Directed by Hall Brooks
Lighting Design: Mark Barton
Sound Design: Ron Russell
Costume Design: Jessica Gaffney
Stage Manager: Richard A. Hodge
Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission
Barrow Street Theatre 27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue (212) 868-4444
From 6/05/11; opening 6/19/11; closing 8/14/11
Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m.. and Sunday at 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Beginning June 25: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m
Tickets: $40, students $15
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons July 20, 2011
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