Pure Theatre’s production of “No Child” tells the story of Ms. Sun, a “teaching artist,” who receives a grant to direct a play in the “worst classroom” of an inner-city Bronx high school. Pure’s dynamic production is hilarious and personable while revealing a no-holds-barred glimpse into the heartbreaking realities of being an educator in underserved communities. One woman, a convincing and captivating Joy Vandervort-Cobb, plays all 16 characters.
Vandervort-Cobb is a performer to write home about, she grabs your attention the second she comes on stage portraying the school’s wise and ancient janitor. She does not let it go until she is ready, as the play comes full-circle, and she gracefully exits the stage as the same character.
The play runs for a little over an hour, and Vandervort-Cobb is in full swing the entire time. With no costumes, hardly any props, and no co-stars, the play is a testament to Vandervort-Cobb’s superior acting abilities. The accents, tones and body language she employs to portray a classroom full of rowdy and jaded students, an overwhelmed teacher, a machine-like authoritarian principal and several other school employees were flawless.
Vandervort-Cobb, a core ensemble member with Pure and an associate professor of theater at the College of Charleston, was the perfect actress to perform this award-winning, poignant work by Nijala Sun, which is based on Sun’s own experiences as a teacher. “No Child” captures the hardened exterior of students who have come up in a chaotic and imbalanced “No Child Left Behind” public education system that over-emphasizes test-scores while underfunding schools and undervaluing teachers. Sun shows how much these students are up against from the moment they are born, growing up in households that are grappling with the crippling cycles of poverty that plague many minority groups in our society.
Sun’s play reveals that these students, whom our educational system often considers “lost causes” and allows to slip through the cracks, are people who want to learn and succeed as much as anybody. They only need someone who believes in them and support them and doesn’t disappear when things get tough.
The combination of Sun’s writing and Vandervort-Cobb’s acting made for powerful theater that had the audience laughing and crying; the play was deeply human. When Vandervort-Cobb appeared for her curtain call and received her standing ovation, she beamed and her eyes visibly watered. She looked proud, and she should, she delivered a memorable, important performance.
Additional performances are scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 8 p.m. Thursday. Tickets are $26.
Seamus Kirst is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.