Patrese D. McClain is amazing.
She begins as an old janitor at Malcolm X High School in the Bronx, bent over his mop pail, talking to us. He returns from time to time as our narrator.
Then McClain becomes the main character, an actor who has a grant to teach in the high school for six weeks, putting on a play.
And she's a Chinese-American teacher, an African-American principal, other teachers, a security guard – this high school has more security than most banks – and the Hispanic-American grandmother of one of the students.
And she's the students: the alpha male, the shy guy, the pregnant girl, the too-cool girl.
Each is clearly defined, vocally and physically, in a split second. She does repeat their behavior, but that's how we can follow who is who. No Child . . . is worth watching just for the virtuoso display.
But it's an enjoyable piece, with the expected ups and downs and the heart-warming success at the end. Nilaja Sun, who wrote it, drew on her own experiences as an artist-teacher in New York. In those schools, students and teachers are overwhelmed by inadequate supplies, insufficient support, and crumbling buildings. Many of the students want to learn, but they have to fight poverty, hunger, parental neglect, and a community that has no place for the education and the educated that these schools might produce.
So of course the kids don't know what to make of this thing of putting on a play. It's thrilling, it's stupid, it's impossible for them to do.
We've seen this before in books and plays and movies about these schools, these young people, this country. No Child . . . springs no surprises, no revelations. But the story is very well told, the people are real, it is all very satisfying.
And you wish that all these teachers and their students could be this successful.
Joe Hanrahan, who has some experience with one-person shows, directed. Brian Purlee's set is just a textured wall with a screen for Sean Savoie's projections, which fill in information about locations. Savoie also did the lights, Robin Weatherall the sound design – especially helpful in a minimalist production – and Linda Kennedy provides a neutral outfit for Ms. McClain that works for the multitude she embodies.