There's a modest little show called No Child ... currently playing in Greenwich Village -- modest in its production values, which consist of a stage, a gloriously talented actress, three chairs and a mop. It's anything but modest in its eloquence, passion, insight and reach: this edition of the show has just been extended and it's toured all over the country since its premiere in 2007.
The actress (and writer) in question is Nilaja Sun and she has created a classic teacher tale from her own experience as a visiting teaching artist in New York City schools. There is the initial idealism and apprehension, the difficulty getting through to the kids at the tough high school, the despair, the perseverance and at the end, hard redemption won by the kids themselves and their teacher.
Sun, a wiry, exuberant rocket of energy, also gives us the anxious Asian teacher who begins the school year, the stentorian Russian teacher who takes over halfway through and all the students - the girls with attitude, the Hispanic kid, the kid who says his lines as if he has marbles in his mouth, the African-American boy who gives Ms. Sun nothing but trouble until he turns up with his part memorized.
Sun's portrayal of the teaching artist's low point is very effective. She questions why she, an African-American teacher, chose a play about convicts and laments, "I can't even help my own people. We are getting these kids ready for jail." Opening night arrives, the show isn't perfect, but the janitor comments, "I never seen them kids shine like they did tonight."
The play's title refers to the No Child Left Behind education law, with its emphasis on testing and accountability, and gently makes the point that that arts produce results that are deep and lasting, but can't necessarily be reduced to a score or a number. This is theater for life.