CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 34 . . . . May 4, 2012
This intriguing collection of six plays in The Green Thumb Collection is diverse and will appeal to many different audiences, with scripts from Canadian playwrights Jamie Norris, Michele Riml, Michael P. Northey, and Meghan Gardiner. With subjects ranging from eco-heroes to fitting in at a new school, from isolation to low self-esteem, from rape to drug addiction, the collection will be a wonderful addition to any library or classroom. For teachers, this will be a particularly useful collection to have for students interested in theatrical productions, or for schools that want to put on plays with solid plots, complex characters, and poignant themes. For ordinary reading, the collection could be more problematic. While I, personally, have read many screenplays and theatrical scripts over the years, some may find the format difficult to read without the benefit of an accompanying performance, or at least a multiple-person reading. Also, since the subjects do vary widely, it is difficult to say who the intended audience is; younger children will be interested in the first couple of plays, but the last three are much more geared for older audiences. That being said, however, each individual script is very much worth reading, full of rich characterizations and covering important themes that children and teens experience on a daily basis. And, perhaps most importantly, they avoid being "issue" plays which are so often expected of theatre for younger audiences.
The first three plays, "Showdown", "Derwent is Different," and "The Invisible Girl" offer various takes on themes of difference and fitting in, as well as self-esteem and the benefits and perils of friendship. In "Showdown", Rex and Becky's friendship is tested as Marshall becomes part of their lives. Marshall is a transfer student who likes figure skating, sci-fi, and talking like a cyborg. While this doesn't endear him to most students, he eventually befriends Rex and becomes his lab partner for a project on ants. Becky is the smart girl who doesn't want her place challenged, which it is when Marshall shows up, beating her almost-perfect test scores regularly. The three experience the myriad benefits and pitfalls of friendship as they eventually learn to all be friends together. Jamie Norris manages to keep her play from becoming preachy by making the characters incredibly realistic and memorable. "Derwent is Different" is similar in that Derwent is dealing with the aftermath of a ruined friendship when Ramona decides he is just too "different", and she befriends Derwent's arch-nemesis, Lucas. The play is a one-man show done in the style of a video letter from Derwent to Ramona. Derwent is complicated, different, but brave and truthful. His voice is truly unique, and the torment he endures is heartbreaking, but his decision to finally confront his demons will make you cheer!
In much the same way as the previous two plays, "The Invisible Girl" showcases the bravery of a young girl who chooses to forego her place in the popular group in order to befriend and help a girl named Dolores follow her passion as a singer. When Ali nominates Dolores to sing in front of the school, instead of nominating her popular friend Cali, everything begins to fall apart, and Ali goes from invisible to all-too-visible in just a few short days. But her bravery is rewarded as she learns about Dolores and finds out about all the obstacles she has had to overcome and how much this singing experience would mean to her. These three plays are more for primary and middle-school audiences.
"Tree Boy" is also for a younger audience, but it works on a very different theme from the previous three. In this play, Avery is trying to save a tree from being torn down to give his dad another parking space. Avery's dedication to the environment and to saving the world for future generations is remarkable and noteworthy. The impact he has on his friends and family is impressive and goes to show how much an individual can change the behaviours and perceptions of a larger group. Within the play is also a subplot about fear and judgment as Avery overcomes his aversion to sleeping in the dark and also confronts the neighbor who he once found so frightening.
"Cranked" and "Blind Spot" are definitely for upper-middle school and high school audiences and deal with darker themes of drug addiction, abuse, and rape. "Cranked" is the tale of a young and talented rap artist who becomes addicted to crystal meth and his journey coming out of that addiction. The play is a series of monologues and rap music that chronicle the story of Stan. Far from being a simple lesson on the dangers of drugs, "Cranked" is a story that goes far beyond simply another addiction story. The mix of song and speech create a truly unique experience. Reading the play is not nearly the same as viewing it, but it is meaningful and inspiring either way. The last play in the collection, "Blind Spot", is about two friends that go to a party and things become overwhelmingly complicated when Tyler tells Carrie that he loves her. When Tyler's annoying cousin gets involved, things go seriously wrong. Damien drugs Carrie's drink and, when Tyler goes to apologize for upsetting her earlier, she is suddenly very open to suggestion. But the next morning, when she is confronted by Tyler, who informs her that they had sex, she can't help but feel incredibly violated. A poignant look at the effects of date-rape drugs and the need for consent, "Blind Spot" doesn't hold back and doesn't go for a happy ending as one might expect or hope for.
All in all, The Green Thumb Collection is a satisfying collection of inspiring and solid plays by talented playwrights from across Canada. As I said before, simply reading plays can be a very different experience to reading other novels or nonfiction materials, and I was, therefore, a bit disappointed that there was not more in terms of author interviews, or reactions to the plays, or even some more perspective given to the plays at the end of each one. I think that such additions would help readers better understand and experience the plays if they have not had the opportunity to see them or do not have the opportunity to stage them in a school or community theatre. But in the end, it is the content that is available that matters the most, and the plays in this collection speak very well for themselves.
Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He will begin doctoral studies at Simon Fraser University in September 2012.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.