BWW Review: NO CHILD at Great River Shakespeare Festival
In most discussions about education, schools, students, programs, and teachers people often get a little heated, a little emotional, a little frustrated. It is a topic that elicits deep reactions, and the play NO CHILD by Nilaja Sun is a searing demonstration why. Written in 2006 by Sun, based on her own "teaching artist" experience in the NY public school system, every line is just as meaningful and poignant today. But even more, the one-actor performance by Melissa Maxwell is a singularly brilliant tour de force.
Sixteen characters - yes, sixteen - tell this story. All are intertwined within an education system that is held together by spit and baling wire, and the commitment and passion of a few adults who simply refuse to give up on their kids. Maxwell plays the tentative but hopeful Sun, brought in to teach a play (she chooses one about convicts and chides herself for it) and her personal journey is the connective tissue of the piece. But she plays everyone, all sixteen souls. With the merest change of voice, body language, and attitude every character is immediately identifiable as an individual with hopes and dreams and frustrations and anger and unmet needs. Maxwell inhabits EVERYONE: the steely-eyed school administrator who at one point tells Sun to get it together; the male student who is a born leader but who needs to be tough, tough, tough; the terrified student who can barely speak; the sassy (and very funny) student who does not suffer fools; the elderly, weary custodian who has a love for the students going back decades; and the dozen others who people this world. All are real, all are struggling, all are looking for something to hold onto (even the pride of being "the worst class in the school" - which they're actually not).
The story of this school and these characters is recognizable from our TV screens and in our own memories of schools and teachers that we loved or hated. It resonates in a way that is pretty raw and emotional. Some theatre experiences are unforgettable and Maxwell's performance in NO CHILD is firmly in this category. NO CHILD runs in rep at the Great River Shakespeare Festival through August 2, 2019. For tickets go to http://grsf.org/box-office/ or call 507.474.7900.
Directed by Tarah Flanagan, Lighting Designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, Sound Designer Scott O'Brien, Dramaturg Victoria Teague, Stage Manager Madison Tarchala, Assistant Stage Manager Alexander Carey, Properties Supervisor Ivy Thomas, Assistant Lighting Designer Avery Reagan.