‘No Child’ A Tour de Force at The Waterfront Playhouse (Solares Hill)

‘No Child’ A Tour de Force at The Waterfront Playhouse (Solares Hill)

Posted Sun, Jan 31, 2010 in Reviews

Wow. One might think that a play about a play about a play being performed by one woman portraying 16 different characters might get a little busy and difficult to follow. Yet that assumption does not hold true for “No Child …,” now playing at Waterfront Playhouse.

This poignant production’s message of hope and the triumph of the human spirit come through loud and clear, thanks to the breathtaking performance of South Florida actress Lela Elam.

“Child” ostensibly is the story of a brave and idealistic Bronx high school teacher, Ms. Sun, who tries desperately to get her marginalized and jaded 10th grade theater class to put on a production of “Our Country’s Good,” itself a play revolving around an Australia-stationed British army officer’s attempt at getting his male and female convicts to take part in a production of George Farquhar’s “The Recruiting Officer.”

Not surprisingly, Ms. Sun’s students at Malcolm X High are less than enthused about the project. They’re well aware that what society expects from them is only that they drop out, get pregnant, do drugs and commit crime. The irony that the play that Ms. Sun wants her class to embrace is about prisoners is not lost on them. As Janitor Baron points out, the school and its students have been all but abandoned by the federal government since the Great Communicator’s USDA declared school-lunch ketchup to be a vegetable back in 1981.

At first the obstacles seem insurmountable to Sun, who is rightly deflated that a class vote gives a unanimous thumbs-down to her project. “I can’t even help my own people,” she frets.

But much like Gabe Kotter going the extra mile for the sake of his Sweat Hogs, Sun perseveres and indeed succeeds in convincing her charges that Rousseau’s famed adage, “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains,” needn’t necessarily apply to them. They can put on a play. They can graduate school. They can make something of themselves.

This achievement is substantial but not without its melancholy side. Audiences are reminded that some of the brightest will always slip through the cracks. Or like turtles struggling to reach the sea, not all of them will make it to the play, to graduation — or to their 21st birthdays, for that matter.

Nevertheless this inspiring and empowering, semi-autobiographical play by Nilaja Sun brings a welcome message of hope to a recession-weary nation that sure could use one right about now.

All power to the people.

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