CM . . . .
Volume VII Number 19 . . . . May 25, 2001
excerpt: (from "The Face is the Place", p. 96)
We're the Keepers of the Face. We call ourselves the Faces, we're the Keepers of the Face. The Face. All faces belong to the Face. No matter which girl's wearing it, every face belongs to the Face. The Face rules. If a girl follows the Code, her face stays clean. If she breaks the Code, we claim her skin. The Face is your beauty, it's what people look at to decide if you're in or out. I'd kill to protect my face.Being "in or out" is the essential quandary of adolescent life. High school society is a complex hierarchy of leaders, followers, insiders, and outsiders. Each of the three plays in Rave explores this tough reality, frankly and authentically. However, I'm a high school teacher, a few decades past adolescence; I observe it, and mercifully, I no longer have to live it. So, I asked 16-year-old Unity Yuen, an avid reader and S3 (Grade 11) student at Kelvin High School to read Rave, and to co-review the book.
The first play in the collection, "The Other Side of the Closet," depicts the "outing" of a high school student who is tired of living a lie, but who is frightened of the reaction of friends and family to his being gay. Denial no longer works; he tells a friend that he "tried praying as hard as [he] could for [his thoughts] to go away but they just kept getting stronger and stronger." (p. 31) However, his friends are gay-bashing homophobes, and his family is not going to be happy about the decision he makes at the end of the play. Unity and I both found the play to be powerful, and she noted that the counterpointed dialogue was particularly strong: "the author [used] overlapping sounds and voices. The way that one sound would turn into another and serve as a transition between scenes was effective and interesting . . . The ending was really great . . . it leaves you slightly hanging, wondering what would have happened next, but not so much that it drives you crazy. The only flaw in this play is that unless you're an actual teenager, it's hard to write as one. The characters are still good, but they could have been better."
At the beginning of "Chile con Carne," Manuelita is only eight years old, but her total immersion in the politics of her Chilean emigre parents make her seem much older. Still a child, though, she plays with Barbies, retreats to her secret hideaway in a cedar tree, and has made friends with a classmate she calls "Lassie." her mis-pronunciation of the name "Leslie." Permanently barred from returning to their homeland, her parents eke out a fringe living, giving most of their emotional energy and time to continuing the revolutionary struggle of Salvadore Allende, often leaving Manuelita to reflect on their politics while slowly being drawn into Canadian culture. Chile con Carne simmers with emotion, and although Unity and I both felt that it was a great play, we also agreed that it was out of place in a collection of young adult drama. Unlike "The Other Side of the Closet" or "The Face is the Place," this play could not be readily workshopped or produced by high school drama students. As Unity pointed out, "finding the right music, locating good actors who can speak Chilean Spanish, putting up subtitles, getting the exact pictures for the slides, setting up the stage - it's all just way too complicated." And although many adolescents are familiar with the politics of protest, I think that few young adult audiences would know enough about the politics of 1970's Chile to understand the troubled context of Manuelita's family life.
Both "The Other Side of the Closet" and "Chile con Carne" have episodes of violence, but "The Face is the Place" takes the reader into a truly terrifying world. The Faces is a gang of young woman who are running a protection racket out of the washrooms of their high school. They extort money from anyone wishing to use the bathroom: "As I was saying, this can is ours. No one pees in our toilets without our permission. Did you ask permission?" (p. 93) Failing to pay up marks you: sooner or later, one of the Faces will take a razor to your face, cut you, leave you bleeding, vulnerable, and scarred forever. "Being beautiful has and always will be an issue with teenage girls and Beth Goobie managed to depict the stupidity of it all, perfectly," said Unity Yuen. Still, in this play, saving your face is about more than beauty: it's about self-image, self-worth and self-respect. Finally, one young woman decides that she's had enough and finds a way to save her own and everyone else's face. Unlike the complicated staging of "Chile con Carne," "The Face is the Place" has a simple set, lowering the difficulty of production, and allowing the audience to focus on the real issues. The characters would be "challenging to portray . . . [but] it would definitely hold the attention of the audience. All around, it's a well-written and intriguing play." (Unity Yuen)
Rave is strong stuff. Older teens are its intended audience, not only because of the language and sexual content, but also because most younger teens might find it difficult to connect with some of the situations depicted. Some readers might be offended both by the language and overt sexuality of some of the characters; like it or not, this is what you might hear in the halls of any public high school, and sexuality is a real issue for adolescents -- these plays represent their genuine issues and concerns.
As a text for high school acting performance classes, Rave can serve a variety of purposes, although "Chile con Carne" would definitely be tough to produce. Unity and I both enjoyed reading the collection and talking about the plays. We're pretty certain that other high school teachers and students will feel the same way about it.
Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School where Unity Yuen is a Senior 3 student.
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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.