Volume 21 Number 6
Award-winning playwright and director Dennis Foon, who has written such outstanding plays for young people as New Canadian Kid, Invisible Kids (both Arsenal Pulp Press, 1989), Skin and Liars, has published another hard-hitting, issue-driven play. Seesaw was commissioned by Manitoba Theatre for Young People, a group under the artistic direction of Leslee Silverman which has been producing top-quality theatre for a young adult audience since 1982.
Foon wrote Seesaw after talking to seventy-eight sixth and seventh graders in schools throughout Winnipeg. The author states in his introductory note that he wanted to capture the feeling of walking on a tightrope that these kids experience as they struggle with more and more aggressive and conflict-ridden situations outside the home and less and less support at home. The play owes its final form not only to Foon's ability to create characters and situations with a ring of authenticity but also to the talents of the Banff Playwrights Colony and the New Play Centre of Vancouver, two companies that workshopped the play before it was performed in Winnipeg by Manitoba Theatre for Young People.
The play centres on four grade 7 students, all of whom are struggling with peers and parents in a series of predicaments that mimic the movements of a seesaw. Sometimes one character is on top, sometimes another, as the balance shifts from scene to scene. Charla is lonely and insecure, struggling to cope with her parents' breakup; Paige's narcissism and shallow values are a reflection of her self-absorbed parents; Josh is a timid outsider neglected by workaholic parents; and Adam is the school bully perpetuating the abuse he receives at home. Foon's use of puppets and inanimate objects for all the adults in the play is an interesting technique: for example, Paige's mother and father appear as a huge mannequin and a car, while Adam's father and mother are represented by hand-held dog and cat puppets.
The text of the play includes pictures from the Manitoba Theatre for Young People production, an addition readers will find extremely valuable for visualizing the production. Young viewers usually have some trouble appreciating the minimalist type of theatrical experience that plays like Seesaw offer. Such plays are a real challenge to readers, even those whose experience of the theatre is fairly broad.
The play would be a worthwhile addition to a library wishing to expand its collection of short plays dealing with problems of adolescents. Librarians would do well to draw the attention of English, drama and guidance teachers to Seesaw, or for that matter to any of Foon's other plays in their collections.
Valerie Nielsen is a teacher-librarian at Acadia Junior High School in Winnipeg, MB
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