No Child… : Yes, child!

Celia Aloma, Arts Club Theatre, No Child...

Celia Aloma reminds us that live theatre is all about embodiment. (Photo by Moonrider Productions.)

Are you looking for a really good reason to go back to the theatre? Here you go: the Arts Club’s production of Nilaja Sun’s No Child… will remind you what it’s all about.

In the story, an actor/teacher named Miss Sun arrives at the impoverished Malcolm X High School in the Bronx to direct “the worst” Grade Ten class in a production of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good, which is about a group of convicts in Australia in 1780 who perform a Restoration comedy. This convention might sound complicated but the concerns of No Child… are clear: class, disenfranchisement, and the recognition of one’s worth through the creation of art.

No Child… is a solo: one actor performs 16 characters. And that’s what makes it perfect for this moment: watching a skilled performer inhabit body after body after body after soul after soul is essentially theatrical. It’s the physical alchemy we’ve been missing.

And Celia Aloma, whom I saw on opening night, is a frickin’ genius at it. (Aloma shares the run with Ali Watson.) My favourite moments were the transitions, watching Aloma transform from the strutting student Jerome to the self-contained Miss Sun — in a fraction of a breath as she walks across the stage — or instantly manifesting another student, Shondrika, an imperious, hilarious diva. Aloma is all-texture all the time, accents and emblematic character gestures spinning off her like sparks off a Catherine wheel.

Under Omari Newton’s direction, is generally strong. Owen Belton’s sound design is surprisingly pedestrian — his work is usually more evocative — but Gerald King’s lighting persuasively guides us from space to space.

There are weaknesses in the writing — clichés, predictable and sentimental plot turns, overwritten monologues — and these flaws made it hard for me to get into the show at first. But No Child… is an actor’s vehicle, Aloma is a skillful actor, and the script is about the transformational power of art so, ultimately, resistance was futile.

I hesitated but, before long, No Child… got me and it got me good.

NO CHILD… By Nilaja Sun. Directed by Omari Newton. An Arts Club Theatre production on the Newmont Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre on Wednesday, September 30. Continues until November 8. Here’s where to buy tickets for the live performance or for the digital stream.

 

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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