________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2005


Putting on a Show: Theatre for Young People.

Kathleen McDonnell.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2004.
188 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 1-896764-89-4.

Subject Headings:
Children’s plays, Canadian (English).
Theatre-Juvenile literature.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Harriet Zaidman.

**** /4


The essence of theater is make-believe. From a high-tech Disney extravaganza to a local theater production to a puppet show in someone’s living room – all theater is simply a version of “let’s pretend.” But in theater it’s not only the performers who pretend; the audience has to pretend too. The name for this phenomenon among theater people is the “willing suspension of disbelief.”


Putting on a Show is a collection of four plays by Kathleen McDonnell, a versatile writer for children and an author of YA novels as well as adult books about issues facing children. The plays contained in this edition have all been performed for young audiences.

     The book contains an introduction that will be interesting reading for a pre-adolescent or teenager keen on understanding the magic of theatre. It offers a short history of theater in the western world, and tips on how to stage a play. The conversational style of writing engages readers in a mental dialogue that will give them the ability to visualize and then realize the performance of a play. An extensive glossary of terms at the end of the book provides clear explanations.

     The first play, “Loon Boy,” is about a boy who must go live with a foster mother and who learns to deal with personal issues. This play won a 1994 Chalmers Canadian Children's Play Award for young audience theatre.

     McDonnell adapted and extended her children’s book, Ezzie's Emerald, into a musical of the same name. The plot follows an overweight girl who finds self-confidence when she meets a comical fairy godmother.

     The Seven Ravens is an adaptation of the story by the Grimm Brothers in which a young girl must travel to the end of the world to free them from a curse that has turned them into ravens. Two versions of the manuscript are included, thereby allowing readers to compare to see the changes that can take place when a play is workshopped.

     The last play, Foundlings, is the only play aimed at children aged 12-14. It has two acts and is set in Greece in the fifth century BCE, but the characters speak in contemporary language. Combining myths and history, it deals with the abandonment of children and the lasting psychological trauma that results.

Cleon: But I always thought…How is that possible?

Baucis: After we found the baby, I went into seclusion. We told everyone the gods had blessed us with a child.

Cleon: No one had any idea he wasn’t yours?

Baucis: No. Not even Diagoras himself. Until a few days ago.

Cleon: Diagoras. No wonder I always felt…I must have known, somehow, that he was…

     The wrong that has been committed must be made right; wrong acts create disruption in the order of the world and it is not without disruption that order and justice are restored. Foundlings is an opportunity to teach children about Greek deities, myths and the fascinating topic of the Greek theatre.

     Putting on a Show will be very useful in a drama class. The plays will educate students and give them an opportunity to develop their dramatic talents through interesting, challenging plays.

Highly Recommended.

Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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