Reviewed by Ilana Novick
Una Aya Osato's Recess is based on the writer/performer's experiences attending and teaching in New York City Public Schools. Sharita Jackson is only six years old, but has to cope with a dying mother and a social and academic landscape that is more like Dangerous Minds than elementary school. Adding insult to injury, Sharita’s teacher, Ms. White, is convinced she’s the devil of second grade, due to her constant fighting and undermining. Sharita’s attempts to understand what’s happening to her mother and to fit in at school are heartbreaking and fascinating. She alternates between wanting to be mature and helpful (asking her mother if she wants her medicine) and like any seven-year-old, asking if she can never go to school again.
The other characters aren’t quite as developed--for instance, Ms. White is alternately disdainful and afraid of her students, which certainly rings true, but it’s never explained why her students provoke both feelings, or why, if she’s so scared and disapproving, she got into teaching in the first place. The subplot involving videotaped messages from the children to President Obama also seems a little extraneous, especially for an hour-long show dealing with such heavy matters. Still, thanks to Osato’s insights and her realistic portrayal of a six-year-old, Recess manages to carry that emotional weight.