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Lazarus, John
Toronto, Coach House Press, 1993. 205pp, paper, $16.95
ISBN 0-88910-453-0. CIP

Night Light - Grades 3-6 / Ages 3-8
School Yard Games - Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13
Not So Dumb - Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13
Secrets - Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16

Reviewed by Maryleah Otto.

Volume 21 Number 6
1993 November

Teachers of dramatic arts will welcome these four contemporary plays for grades 3 to 11 as they follow a group of children going through the dark and not-so-dark sides of growing up.

In Schoolyard Games Eleanor, Susan and Binnie, aged ten, nine and eight, respectively, vie with one another for acceptance and recognition. Eleanor and Binnie are sisters; Susan is a friend. The setting is a schoolyard, where Eleanor is practising for a gymnastics tournament. An argument during a game of skip-rope reveals Eleanor's reluctance to play fair. Binnie's ongoing inclination to horse around infuriates Eleanor, who, in a vicious outburst of uncontrolled anger, scuffles with her younger sister. Emotions climax when Susan tells Eleanor that other members of the gym team say she's a rotten gymnast. Eleanor then turns on Susan, badly twisting her arm. The possibility of a real injury defuses the incident, and a tenuous peace ensues.

The play is a superb examination of pre-teen angst. The action is mainly psychological, and the excellent dialogue sets the pace and makes real people of the characters.

Binnie reappears in the second of this quartet of plays. Not So Dumb. She is now two years older, and she is receiving special education for a learning disability.

The plot concerns Binnie and her friend Rocky, aged ten, who is also in special ed. When their teacher doesn't show up for class one day, Binnie and Rocky, who are alone in the room, open the filing cabinet to read their files. Victor, also ten, walks in on them. Binnie and Rocky dislike Victor because he is known as a brain and a nerd. But he doesn't betray them. Instead, he tries to cover for them when the principal comes to the door, and he participates in the reading of the files, one of which reveals that the special ed. teacher is resigning to raise a family.

Rocky, who likes the teacher and depends on her very much, is crushed. Fearing no one will now help him with his school problems, he rushes to the principal's office to confess. The principal sympathetically reassures Rocky that he'll get all the help he needs. He also convinces him that the misconduct isn't all that serious. Binnie and Victor then confess their own parts in the incident and all three students become better friends as a result.

Again it is growing pains that form the central action. Each of the characters suffers from being different. They put up a brave front to disguise their pain, but they move much closer to maturity in this play than the three girls did in the first one because they go well beyond vanity, deception and self-interest.

Victor, now several months older, reappears in the third play. Night Light. Still considered a brain and a nerd, he learns here how to cope with the bullying of Parley, a classmate who tries to get Victor to d his math homework and to cheat on a test. At first, Victor does the homework, but he refuses to cheat. Parley's bullying intensifies. Victor, who has been helping his little sister Tara overcome her fear of a night monster, gets an idea that will help him conquer his own fear of Parley. There is a touch of fantasy in this play that sets it slightly apart from the others. The monster plays a major role and is the catalyst through which the children are able to overcome unreasonable fears and to develop greater maturity in interpersonal relationships. The action is less psychological, making Night Light a simpler play than the rest. It would suit a slightly younger audience.

In Secrets Binnie, Susan, Cocky and Victor are back, along with four new characters. All are in their mid-teens. Binnie and Rocky is a "couple" and have been having sex for some time, but, unbeknownst to Binnie, Rocky has sex wherever he can find it. Victor is suspected of being gay because of his habit of imitating what are considered to be homosexual mannerisms. Susan carelessly allowed her schoolmates to think she's "easy" and now she has the reputation of being a slut.

During a party at Victor's place, Susan finds out about Rocky's infidelity. Furious, she dumps him without any regrets. Victor, who is secretly in love with Susan, learns that she's not what people say. She in turn is happy to discover that Victor is not gay, because she'd like to be his girlfriend.

This is the most mature of the four plays. The psychological action is achieved through the use of asides to the audience. Nit reason is given for the masks worn by the four new characters, who otherwise are not differentiated from those who already appeared in the other plays.

The dialogue is excellent. The difficulties that inevitably surround burgeoning boy-girl relationships are openly revealed. If this respect the play is heavily realistic, but Binnie's ability to take control of her life brings a glimmer of maturity that lightens the mood, as does Victor and Susan's gradual awakening to one another's real feelings.

High school drama students would enjoy performing this play.

Maryleah Otto is an author and retired children's librarian in St. Thomas, Ontario
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