CM . . .
. Volume XIV Number 9 . . . .December 21, 2007
Two Steps from the Stars.
Jean-Rock Gaudreault. Translated by Linda Gaboriau.
Toronto, ON: Playwrights Canada Press, 2005.
33 pp., pbk., $13.95.
Grades 6-12 / Ages 11-17.
Review by Jocelyn A. Dimm.
MAGGIE: No, I want to be pretty so people know I exist.
JUNIOR: But you do exist, Magpie, otherwise I am completely crazy. Besides someone can exist even if no one knows it.
MAGGIE: But it feels awful. When I walk into a classroom, I feel like I'm invisible. Nobody says hello. The teacher takes attendance, he calls out my name, and I exist for a few seconds: I answer: "present". Then I disappear among the others.
JUNIOR: You could stand up and shout "I'm here. I exist."
MAGGIE: I don't dare. I'm shy, I can't help it. There's nothing special about me, I have a big sister and a little brother – I'm in the middle. At school, I'm not the best in the class or the worst – I'm average. When we walk in a line I'm not the tallest or the shortest, I walk in the centre. The house I live in is neither pretty nor ugly – there are lots of others that look just like it. My parents aren't rich, they aren't poor. I'm not unhappy so I should be happy. You see, there's nothing in between. You either laugh or you cry. And my problem is I'm not too unhappy, and I'm not happy enough.
Profound philosophical dialogue abounds from the two 11-year-old school mates as, after school one day, Junior shares his plans with Maggie to run away from home and Maggie challenges his idea. But the dialogue moves far beyond the plotting of Junior's escape from an overbearing father and a dream to become an astronaut. Junior and Maggie share their insights on the world around them, from the invisibility they feel when being ignored by peers and adults alike, to how disappointing life can be when you don't measure up to others' expectations.
In scene two, Maggie meets up with Junior to watch him run away. She walks with him, and they talk about his future away from their school, town, and families. Junior is going to jump on a passing train; Maggie has brought a picnic lunch. There is also the rumour being passed around at school that Junior and Maggie are in love.
As the conversation continues, there are currents of far more deeply disturbing issues arising from this play. Junior obsessively counts each step he takes. He also speaks in riddles about the 'red strips on his skin' that happen when the skin stretches as you 'grow up'. This 'growing up' seems to be applied by his strict father. The dialogue of the play moves far beyond the years of two 11-year-olds, and the questions may be asked: how will 11-year-olds interpret a play like this? Who will play these children on stage?
Two Steps from the Stars is a Governor General Award winner and has been cast on stage with adults in the roles of Junior and Maggie. The dialogue is a mixture of the adventurous yet innocent voices of adolescents and the playwright's experienced social comments, a blend that manages depth where there might have been a lack of understanding. Gaudreault balances the adult voice and the child voice in a way that opens up the opportunity for critical thinking for the reader/audience beyond the pages of the play. That said, performing this play with 11-year-old students will require ample discussion, lead in and reflective closure. The play feels a bit dated – the main characters often seem more like nine-year-olds speaking like adults, and would Junior consider running away by jumping on a train in 2007? Furthermore, the issues are sensitive and a lack of understanding would affect the meanings conveyed about love, abuse, obsessive compulsive behaviour, depression, etc. in this work.
A good play but one that will require extended effort to produce.
Recommended with reservations.
Jocelyn A. Dimm teaches courses in adolescent literature and drama education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Victoria.
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