Reporter Jackie Majerus wrote this review:
The dramatic high school comedy "No Child…," now playing at TheaterWorks, deserves an A plus.
Simultaneously sad and funny, "No Child…" is a fast-moving, intelligently done and provocative work about the painful reality of urban high school by playwright Nilaja Sun.
The show is based on Sun's own experience as a teaching artist in public schools in the Bronx. Originally done as an award-winning, off-Broadway solo performance by Sun, "No Child…" in Hartford uses a cast of four.
Setting the tone for the show is the dismal cinderblock scene of the high school hallway, where a bullet hole has pierced a window and graffiti defaces the walls near the janitor's closet.
The set supports the underlying theme that high school is often a prison for the students trapped there. The ugly truths that the teenagers live with come out in bits and pieces.
The audience learns that the students have had five different teachers in seven months, that teachers generally expect them to fail and that their parents are uninvolved – if they even exist at all.
Four actors together represent a dozen or more characters, and they do a stunning job of it.
Three of them – Lizan Mitchell, Portia and Anthony Mark Stockard – carry all the characters except the visiting teacher, Ms. Sun. They play people of varying ages, races and sexes, all of them morphing flawlessly from one to another.
Mitchell, who is remarkable as an old black man, a timid Asian woman and a slouching student with attitude, opens the show. In her role as the longstanding custodian who's seen it all, he doesn't mind sharing his observations – on the students, teachers, the school and the neighborhood – with the audience.
Half the kids, he says, are "raising themselves."
Equally impressive is Stockard, who plays a wide range of students who are as hilarious as they are heartbreaking.
The three actors work their character-changing magic without benefit of elaborate costume changes, using powerful body language and talented voice work to pull it off.
Donnetta Lavinia Grays plays Ms. Sun, the struggling teaching artist who is desperately trying to keep up with her bills even as she fights to connect with the students.
At one point, Ms. Sun hits bottom, and like so many dedicated teachers, announces she is quitting. She's exhausted, smoking and losing weight and worst of all, doesn't think she's reaching the students.
"They need something much greater than I can give them," Ms. Sun says. "They need a miracle."
She laments that the students aren't taught to become leaders, but to go to jail. They're abandoned by families and by their teachers, she realizes, and sent to a school with metal detectors and security guards.
Possibly the most poignant moment comes when Ms. Sun realizes that the students are all too familiar.
"All of those kids in there are me," she says.
Directed by Rob Ruggiero, the TheaterWorks run of "No Child…" has been extended more than once.
Shows continue through Sunday, Oct. 12, according to Jacques Lamarre, spokesman for the theater.
For more information, call the theater at (860) 527-7838 or go online to www.theaterworkshartford.org.
General admission seating for No Child... is $37 to $47, but there are discounts available for teachers and school groups. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street in downtown Hartford.
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