Theatre Review By Kevin Six

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(from left) Marc Amial Caro, John Rogers, Robert Malave, Lynae DePriest, Dempsey Davis, Bianca Ostojich, and Rebekah Ensley in InnerMission and Mesa College Theatre's production of "No Child...". Photo: Paul Savage

When you produce a play about teaching artists trying to make sense of arts and education, set in a school, and performed at a community college – with student actors yet – you’re asking a lot of an audience.  This much was asked of me tonight and, after my disclaimer that I am married to a member of the cast, I must say Mesa College and InnerMission Productions’ “No Child…” It’s worth the drive to Kearney Mesa.

The play itself is short – less than an hour – but every second of it brings something new, touching and uplifting.  The story is real and often acted solo by the author, by Nilaja Sun.  Some day, I’d like to see her do this because the rapid-fire exchange of dialogue is an amazing feat and this cast of 16 was working overtime as it was.

The play is narrated by Janitor Barron, in an extremely human and wizened portrayal by Rhys Green.  Barron paints the picture of a school and a class full of kids who have already been left behind when the national No Child Left Behind brings its show to Brooklyn.  Ms. Sun has been hired, through a department of education grant, to teach the worst of the worst kids a play.  Lynae DePriest pretty much lives the pain, and pathos of this poor artist with an impossible task, and manages to instill hope.  Another stand out in the cast is Justine Hince as the overwhelmed and finally consumed Ms. Tam.  Watching her go from hopeful to disenchanted, to giving up is worth the price of admission.

It is at this point that a reviewer would explain that this production was an educational collaboration with actual students playing the actual students and professionals playing the adults in a way to soften the blow that the kids were blown away by the pros.  But not so.  These kids are possessed of so much energy, talent and emotion (and so much control over them all) that it is hard to understand that they are just beginning their careers as actors.  The ensemble as a whole is even, competent and surefooted.

Standouts among the kids are Brandon Kelly as the angry young Jerome, Bianca Ostojich whose Shondrika can kill with a look, and Rebekah Ensley whose Cocoa puts hope into a much-too-common end to her high school studies.

The production team is also a combination of students and professionals and by-and-large they pull it off with nary a hitch.  Directors Carla Nell and Kym Pappas have managed to create a strong, powerful cast that is surprisingly even, even as the emotions trickle, flow and sometimes gush. The only thing wanting is more sound design.  There was too little musical accompaniment to follow up an excellent opening.

So what, you will think, wiping away tears, as the lights fade on an excellently-wrought “No Child…”  After all, as Janitor Barron says, “sometimes the most talented ones just slip through the cracks.”  All in all Mesa and InnerMission created an excellent production with an excellent use of student and professional actors, staff and technicians – and an excellent way to spend an evening.  Just give yourself time to find the college, the parking lot and the theatre – watch this video for information on where to park.

InnerMission Productions and Mesa College present “No Child” by Nilaja Sun at Mesa College’s A Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through May 20.  Tickets range from $10-15 and are available at InnerMissionProductions.org or Mesa College’s Apolliad Theater, 7250 Mesa College Dr., San Diego, CA, 92111.  Building C-100 on this map.

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