18 September 2006

Someone Else's Nine People

If Play by Play reached its peak of greatness when James and I got comps to Spring Awakening and Lieutenant of Inishmore within two weeks, then John Taking Me to Plays for Free has surely reached an unsurpassable level with this past Friday's free show - Nilaja Sun's No Child at Barrow Street.

Don't get me wrong - I'm wary of solo shows. And I'm wary of shows with a Social Message. And this is a solo show with a Social Message. But I don't care, because it was so incredibly fucking good. I mean what I'm about to say more than I ever have before, and if I ever say it again and claim to mean it more than right now, I'm lying: see this show.

I was blown away by this show in every possible way. Nilaja Sun is a fucking incredible performer. I've never seen a solo show performed with such skill - she had over a dozen characters, and each was completely distinct and recognizable. She'd have scenes with six or eight characters at once, flashing between them, and I never lost track, never even came close. Instead, I forgot I was watching a single actor. It was eerily like reading a play - it's all in the in-your-head voice, but you still hear distinct characters. Her physical skill is amazing, and she's a beautiful actress. She had the audience in the palm of her hand before she even opened her mouth, and didn't lose us the entire show.

And then there's the piece itself. Remember: I don't like plays with a Social Message. I don't usually like plays about Race. But this was so much more than that - yes, it's about those things, but it isn't only those things, and it's so good and such a play and story in its own right that it happens to include a Message and all, but it's not about that. (Which is the only way plays with a Message ever work for me, and I think, as good theatre at all.) But No Child never preaches, never beats you over the head - it just tells its (incredible, compelling) story, and the message is just part of that. (Just like Angels in America isn't a preachy play about homosexuality and AIDS. And yes, I'm making that comparison. Different scale, but yes.) I never felt like there was a Message being delivered - I was just caught up in this incredibly written and performed story.

(A word must be said, too, for director Hal Brooks. Also of Thom Pain and What Then - another brilliant solo show, and a play by Rinne Groff. Consistently good, daring work. And with these fucking awesome solo shows it's easy to forget there's a director and that the brilliant writer and performer, especially when they're the same person, didn't do it all themselves.)

To back up, No Child is a solo show about Nilaja Sun's work as a teaching artist in New York City public schools. Going into usually very poor, troubled schools and doing theatre with the students. (The title references the No Child Left Behind Act, and how, despite the act, thousands of children are.) From the Arts-in-Education work I've seen in the last year, and knowing what John does, I have extreme amounts of respect for the work that teaching artists do. To see these kids on stage, often performing work that they've written, is pretty incredible - in no small part because I know how this experience is going to impact their lives. Of course, we're saturated with stories of idealistic teachers coming into troubled schools and changing their students' lives, but No Child doesn't fall into that cliché, or any of the other million traps just waiting for it. Nilaja Sun's brilliant performance and writing ensured that when I was pretty much bawling at the end, it wasn't manipulation or sentimentality, but just really fucking good theatre.

I know I tell you to see lots of plays. Sometimes - History Boys, Spring Awakening, Pillowman (if we're including plays pre-blog) - they're Plays Not To Be Missed, even worth the price of a ticket. Plays you need to see because they're such good theatre, and you love theatre, and new and exciting theatre is not to be missed. But this is different, and more. I can't remember the last time a play affected me this strongly. Seriously. I'm not kidding around. Go.

No Child
by Nilaja Sun
directed by Hal Brooks

Get tickets here.
Tickets are $29 through September - info & discount code here.

1 comment:

Rocco said...

So....you're saying....

...the play is good?