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On Stage: Black Rep's 'No Child ...' lifts up, leaving no one behind

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 18, 2012The gist: Nilaja Sun’s “No Child ... ” is a returning, one-woman, Black Rep-produced show directed by Joe Hanrahan, starring Patrese McClain as Janitor Baron, teaching artist Ms. Sun, students Jerome and Shondrika and 26 other characters.

Ms. Sun has the monumental task of directing two dozen Malcolm X High School kids in a play called “Our Country’s Good.” But the kids’ lives are far from good. Absent parents, murdered siblings and entrenched hopelessness define their existence. But Ms. Sun coaxes out a few remaining, flickering hopes hiding behind their anger and indifference.

These transformations occur over the 90-minute, no-intermission play. But it takes only split seconds for McClain to morph from wise old custodian to swaggering 18-year-old tough guy to hair-flipping, whatever-ing adolescent girl, like a sketch artist using her body as pen and paper to create a character with the jut of a jaw or a hand on the hip.

Nilaja Sun put the dot-dot-dot in “No Child ... ” so you can fill in the blank. I’m filling it in with “is tremendous.”

A sample: Thoroughly discouraged, Ms. Sun, tells Mrs. Kennedy (also played by McClain, of course): “Those kids in there, they need a miracle. They need a miracle, like, every day. Sometimes, I wish I could go to Connecticut and teach the rich white kids there. Because I know all I have to deal with is bulimia and soccer moms and everyone asking me how I wash my hair.”

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.