On the Aisle
No Child Gives Revealing Lessons
If you want to see an indictment of the New York City public school system that is truthful, but also amusing, then you need to make your way to the Barrow Street Theatre to see Nilaja Sun in her one-woman show No Child. This is one of those plays that makes you take notice from the beginning to the end. Sun took her many years as a teaching artist going into over 20 schools in the New York City public school system and grabbed characters she encountered and created this play for several reasons. There are characters that she is honoring like the school janitors—the people that are least acknowledged but see everything going on in the school and can explain the school’s history, the timid teachers who are way in over their heads, and the poorly performing students that are used to adults counting them out.
As you watch this play you get to know these characters vividly. If you are a teacher you will definitely identify with the faculty characters and the students. As I sat in the audience, I could figure out who was a teacher sitting behind me because there were certain moments that they obviously recognized and reacted to.
Sun’s piece is educational, revealing, powerful and funny. But it will only be around until August 14, so you’ll want to make arrangements to see it. While there is profanity in the show, it can be viewed by younger children, 10 and up.
New Professional Theatre Company
Is Taking Harlem By Storm
New Haarlem Arts Theatre Company beautifully partners student actors from CCNY’s Theatre department with professional actors and is currently presenting a delightful performance of It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues at Aaron Davis Hall through August 21. This is a new professional theatre company in Harlem that was created by Eugene Nesmith, the founder, artistic director and chair of CCNY’s Theatre department.
Nesmith’s goal to pair these actors is a noble one and if the show I saw is evidence of its success, than it will be nothing but blues skies for New Haarlem Arts Theatre Company. It Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues is an incredible production. This show lets the audience experience thrilling singing performances of gospel, country, jazz and blues music, while hearing a live band and there’s the added benefit of seeing some incredibly choreographed dance moves. This show has something for everyone and it’s something the entire family can enjoy. The way the student actors perform next to the established thespians is truly a joy to behold. Everyone steps up to the bar and holds their own. This cast will have you taping, clapping and cheering and consists of Tatiana Adams, Darilyn Castillo, Shawn Brown, Nathaly Lopez, Marvel Allen, Dameka Hayes, Gerald Latham and Jeff Bolding. This show has the brilliant creative team of Tracy Jack as the choreographer and Alfred Preisser as the director.
Bessie Smith’s Life Is Candidly
On Stage At St. Luke’s Theatre
I don’t know if you know a lot about the life of blues singer Bessie Smith. You may know that she was called the Empress of the Blues, and that she lived in the 1920s, but did you know that she was an alcoholic, smoked marijuana and partied with the best of them? She was a woman who didn’t seem to understand the meaning of excess. Well, before I saw The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues Of Bessie Smith at the St. Luke’s Theatre on W. 46th Street, the only information I had on Ms. Smith was that she was a blues singer.
After the show I was equipped with a great deal of information about this very successful artist. Smith was the daughter of a preacher, she had many siblings and she was poor growing up. It could be that the poverty that she knew was one of the reasons she did things to extremes. What you learn during this play is that Smith sang the blues because she literally lived them. She had bad relationships, death took her first husband away, she got involved with a man who called himself managing her career but also felt he had a right to judge the way she lived her life. He felt that she should calm things down, meanwhile, he would leave for weeks on end and have affairs.
Although she had marvelous talents, as does Miche Braden who belts out Smith songs with a smooth, lusty flavor, Smith also had heartaches in huge doses. This revealing play is written by Angelo Parra and directed by Joe Brancato, who is also responsible for the concept and musical staging. Parra has Smith tell her own story as she and band members hang out and sing at an after-hours club. Her band members are perfectly played by Jim Hankins, Aaron Graves and Keith Loftis and Anthony E. Nelson, Jr. The last two alternate in the role of the saxophone player. The show is playing an open-ended run.