In theatre, many worlds are created through the production of plays that come to life on stage. As audience members, I like to think of us as astronauts who conduct galactic travels between these worlds of plays. My latest trip was to the world of “No Child…” by Nilaja Sun, a planet where its creator lives and embodies the created. Space is constructed around one setting that is created by a school janitor Baron, who led me on a tour of the planet. It wasn’t very long at all, surprisingly. He took me to the Malcolm X High School, which is an old, eroding building that complimented the desolate landscape. Sometimes, there can be time warps on a play’s planet, but luckily there were none there. Time moves in a straight forward direction, just like back at home. However, the janitor, who is simultaneously Nilaja Sun, controlled the progression of time. We stepped into a classroom where I see him morph into other characters in a seamless transition. One character is Miss Sun, who tirelessly tries to make the other characters perform the play, Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker (Sun 292). She then transforms into the students who are uncooperative and uninspired by their teacher’s efforts. The language here on this planet is loud and profane, and the students address one another with a harsh, but comedic tone. I watch with dejection as the students vote Miss Sun to leave as time progresses, but one student, Jerome, pleas for her return (Sun 305). More problems occur when another student, José misses the final rehearsals due to the death of his brother (Sun 310). Thunderstorms and rain dominate the weather for days until the day of the show when José reappears from mourning. Then, sunrays peep through the clouds sheepishly as if they themselves know the rarity of their appearance. Janitor Baron never shows us the performance of Our Country’s Good, but accolades from the administration and parents can be heard. Before our departure from this planet, Janitor Baron moves time forward exponentially, into a fantastical future where Miss Sun is married to Denzel Washington and the school is renamed Saint Tupac Shakur Preparatory. The resulting atmosphere is clear and calm, with bright blue skies and even a brighter sun.
One (Wo)Man Show
This one-act, one-actor production completely exemplifies the common adage ‘less is more’. The minimalistic use of actors, dialogue, settings, and props create an atmosphere that is just as effective, if not more, in conveying the message that through unity, anything can be accomplished. Maya Roth compliments Sun in Project Muse of her ‘bold physicality, rapid dialogue, and immaculate comic timing’ in her March 2009 article (Roth 109). In Carol Martin’s Bodies of Evidence, the discussion of what documentary theatre does is categorized into six divisions called functions (Martin 14). One function that is identifiable with “No Child…” is the critique of the operations of both documentary and fiction. The archive within the play is simulated; Nilaja Sun creates an example of how the No Child Left Behind Act (Balock, 2005, No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, 20 U.S.C. § 6319) affected the public school system. Though this is only directly referred to only once within the production, it is hinted in the title as well as interviews with Sun. Sun also worked a public school teaching artist who had witnessed these effects first hand. “No Child…” intermingles autobiography with history through the use of a first hand account that is an active participant of the production (Martin 14). This second function seems to be the primary force that drives this one-actor play, which becomes very apparent when viewing it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vbx5MNj0a-A). The strategic choosing of Our Country’s Good to be used as the students’ play is a pure genius of symbolism; the parallels of confinement of the students and that of the convicts interplay masterfully(http://www.enotes.com/topic/Our_Country’s_Good). Just like the convicts in Wartenbaker’s work, the students are limited by their resources and also by the adverse thoughts of others. The only negative critique that can be given to Sun is her failure to show at least a glimpse of the students’ play. Though this may have proved to be impractical in producing, it leaves the audience unsatisfied without seeing something that had been the main focus. Its absence, however, does not undermine any of the two functions but would have greatly enhanced it.