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Edited by Joyce Doolittle.
Edmonton, AB: NeWest Press, 1984.
254pp., paper, $8.95.
ISBN 0-92031688-3. cloth, $17.95. ISBN 0920316-90-5. Prairie Play series. CIP.

Subject Heading:
Children's plays, Canadian (English).

Grades 7-8 / Ages 12-13

Reviewed by Louise Griffith.

Volume 14 Number 3
1986 May

Eight Plays For Young People: Prairie Performance II, edited by Joyce Doolittle, is a collection written especially for children in their early teens or younger. It is intended, as the editor explains in the six-page introduction, to satisfy the needs of players travelling around the province, giving performances in schools. Accordingly, the plays have simple sets and small casts. Most may be performed with only four actors, some playing several roles and they may be performed in fifty minutes, a class period. The editor has selected plays with a didactic purpose, "to reflect the real experiences of youth undergoing social pressures and coming to grips with the adult world and their own identity."

W O. Mitchell's delightful entry, "The Day Jake Made Her Rain," is consistent, believable, humorous, and true to life. Its merits serve to highlight by contrast the weaknesses of other plays that seek to present the unpleasant truths about ice fishing, " Tikta; Iiktak," ethnic names, "Cornelius Dragon," Barnardo boys, "Dr. Barnardo's Pioneers," bag ladies, "Melody Meets the Bag Lady," only children, "More of a Family," and a new boy's problems leading to vandalism, "Vandal." Only "The Other Side of the Pole," despite its flimsy plot, shows signs of creative vigour.

Of course, a skilled cast can do wonders with even the weakest of plays but if this is the fare being shown to prairie school children, their appetite for drama in later life will not be whetted. There are far too many instances of violence, cruelty, and harassment in the plays. Young people are portrayed as far worse in every way than they are in reality. In this reviewer's opinion, it is wrong to spend public money showing young people examples of cruelty and violence even if the play's ending seems to set matters straight. With all the writing skill there is in the prairie provinces, I am sure that Joyce Doolittle could have selected plays with better characterization ambience, and literary skills that would bring out the values that she hoped to impart. "The Day Jake Made Her Rain" is a bench mark of what such a play can and should be. It tells how a hired man Jake, is driven to construct a machine that he tries out just as a storm occurs.

I hope actors can find better plays than most of these for their purposes. Yet, Eight Plays for Young People probably merits a place in collections of prairie literature, or as source material for a study of prairie life. Better material than this should be sought for classroom study or reading. Look forward to seeing another volume of eight plays for young people containing plays of the high calibre that young people deserve.

Louise Griffith, Agincourt, ON.
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