‘No Child…’ is a Dream Deferred Off-Broadway

“Hush, you could learn something.”  So says a salty old janitor, as played by Sun, who is witness to the transformation at Malcolm X High and acts as both narrator and historian throughout the evening.  Over the course of a semester, one class is tasked with putting on a play, giving each student a chance participate in something greater than memorizing useless trivia in order to pass defunct standardized tests.

Sun’s teaching artist finds her students lacking any type of dreams for a better future, as they are left abandoned by a school system unwilling to deal with troubled teens.  The story is nothing new, as movies like “Stand and Deliver” and “Dangerous Minds” have focused on just such a subject, but the lesson is never taught enough, as the current state of affairs in America can attest.

Through art, Sun is able to engage even the toughest students, although her own financial struggles while battling to do so cause a moment of pause for the teacher, unsure if she can continue fighting a system so unwilling to change.  It is unforgivable that someone like Sun, who in real life is in fact a teaching artist, willing to give up a “respectable” position in society to struggle day in and out so as to change the course of America’s youth, is left to fight off bill collectors and the IRS.

The U.S. Department of Education reports that in 2001, out of the 3.2 million teachers in this country’s public schools, nearly 30 percent of them quit within three years, with 48 percent claiming poor salaries and benefits as the top reasons.  Sun’s reaction to this state of affairs, in creating No Child…, is all too relevant, whether in New York or California.

No Child… is a cry for social change, one that should be heard by all those that demand a brighter future in America.  In its gritty depiction of Malcolm X High, accented by a perfectly bleak set, from both Sibyl Wickersheimer’s local design and Narelle Sisson’s original Off-Broaway design, what could have easily been a bully pulpit production is transformed into serious critique of society.

Photos by Craig Schwartz.  Pictured is writer/performer Nilaja Sun.

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