BWW Reviews: Sun's NO CHILD Simply Superlative at Next Act
A dynamic feminine duo illuminates Next Act Theatre this winter. The company's Midwest Premiere of Nilaja Sun's No Child transports the audience to the Bronx, New York under tjhe direction of Mary MacDonald Kerr and inspired by actor Marti Gobel. Inside the "high risk" Malcolm X High School, teaching artist Sun attempts to resurrect her students' lives and their futures. Students "who need a miracle a day," Sun tries to encourage success by enciing her students to produce and act in a historical play about convicts named Our Country's Good, all to be accomplished in a mere six weeks.
Based on a true story written by Sun, Sun wrote the 2006 multiple award-winning (too numerous to mention), one woman production that recreates 16 characters based on her own experiences. Milwaukee's expert Gobel tackles the performance on stage and in this school room with superb emotion and skill, whether she jives as a student or commands as the school principal.
Dressed merely in a janitorial costume for the entire no intermission performance, which still allows Gobel's luninous taletnt to glow, she inhabits the voices of an elderly janitor or Ms. Sun and her students, including Shakita and Jerome with flawless ease. Her classroom, comprised of educationally and emotionally challenged students, tests Sun's personal commitment, perseverance and physical fortitude every minute, even when out of school and auditioning for the acting jobs she still pursues, which Gobel inhabits through every mood swing.
MacDonald Kerr sensitively directs Gobel using the simply effective scenic design courtesy of Rick Rasmussen, which leaves enough schoolroom for the audience to imagine. Gobel effortlessly moves through the numerous scene transitions, even throwing chairs at time to envision her students, while maintaining the performance's flow. The audience anticipates every scene, attention riveted to the stage, each character she voices completely believable.
Behind the sensational actor, director and technicians, Sun's No Child describes a large percentage of American education in the 21st century. The playwright relates in this NYC school, 75 percent of students have been emotionally, physically or sexually abused, they eat no breakfast, or very little, because there's no food in the cupboard, and often few father's to provide the means to fill them. Gun shots become so routine in their neighborhoods, no one listens anymore, and often someone close will die during their education. Most likely some young woman will bear a child.
Metal detectors are de rigueur from the beginning to the end of the day, and without them, does any staff ever feel secure? Staff and teachers attempt to change these impossible circumstances and statistics Sun explores each day, and if only one student succeeds or learns his/her inalienable worth, than the teacher cries "Hallelujah" to drown out the disrespectful language these students take for granted.
These facts represent Milwaukee, too. Working as an English teacher for beginning college students in the central city, every circumstance Sun revisits in No Child happened---and more. One student, a "B" student pursuing a four year degree program attended the college on scholarship. After the deaths of her good friend with a child and her brother (attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville) within a two week period only two weeks from the semester's end, she sat n the resource center, tears from her cheeks staining her papers. Somehow she found the courage to finish her research paper, present the paper in class and pass even when these lives close to her had been destroyed by drugs slipped to them at a party.
Believe Sun's powerful play and Gobel's exceptional performance. Wonder what the answers might be to the questions she poses, including the role all the arts play in defining America's educational system and success. Educators at all levels, K-12 and beyond, hold the country's future in heir hands. Reward and salute these educators for their difficult tasks. Because in Next Act's superlative No Child there is no blame, only the continuous and perilous quest to solve these dilemmas for which there are currently no answers.
Next Act Theatre presents Nilaja Sun's No Child at through February 22. In conjunction with the production and Milwaukee's Ronald Reagan Baccalaureate High School, a production of the play featured in No Child, Our Country's Good, will be performed on March 13-15 at Next Act Theatre. For information or tickets on each production, please call 414.278.0765 or visit next act.org.