<Book Review>
The Face of America: Plays for Young People
Children's Theatre Company, Peter Brosius and Elissa Adams, eds.
[U of Minnesota P, 2011. (296 pp., 16 b&w photos) ]


In The Face of America: Plays for Young People, editors Peter Brosius and Elissa Adams present a compelling anthology of plays written for contemporary youths facing racial and cultural tensions. The United States is an immigrant country in the midst of what some call an immigration crisis, which creates barriers but also learning opportunities for young people every day. The book presents four plays, all of which attempt to address many issues youths regularly face: parental pressure, peer pressure, judgment, loss, desire, loneliness, growing up, and the pursuit of comradeship and solidarity. These issues are creatively placed against the backdrop of the racial and ethnic challenges experienced by immigrants in America as well as American born minorities. However, as Adams states in her introduction ď[n]one of these plays focuses on a lone person or family of color making their way through white AmericaĒ (ix). This allows audience members to gear their attention towards tactics employed by each character (or family), rather than losing sight of the message which would otherwise be convoluted by racial tension. The Face of America aims to offer insight into a diverse array of challenges while simultaneously attempting to avoid falling back on whiteness as the oppressor. The goal is to encourage communication among youths of all ethnic backgrounds. Thus, this anthology facilitates discussion in potential audience members. These plays are a call for community and solidarity.

The plays, all written by female playwrights, not only exemplify the varying degrees of racial and social tensions present in current American communities, but also challenge popular perceptions of female youths. I argue that each play could be understood as feminist, as they present empowering female images of young women who overcome challenging and unique situations. Though the plays are very much family and community oriented, a common theme in each piece is the struggle and triumph of a female protagonist. The first play, Average Family by Larissa Fasthorse, presents a slightly dysfunctional Native American family, the Roubidouxs, participating in a reality television show called Average Family against the Monroes, a white family facing economic struggles. Little Sarah Monroe, the youngest Monroe , not only serves as the glue that ties the two families together, but also as a catalyst for a healthy journey that brings the Roubidoux family closer than they had ever been before. Fasthorse's sly placement of Sarah as the protagonist in an ensemble play both reinforces the importance of teamwork and collaboration, and the idea that strength can be found even in the smallest, most unsuspected people. The three additional plays more obviously offer female protagonists, encouraging young girls to be brave and to help and learn from each other in an otherwise male dominated world.

While the anthology presents a variety of strong female characters, the reinforcement of living in a manís world becomes problematic. Though presenting resilient female protagonists in these plays seems progressive, it is still the men who initiate or prevent material change within the larger narrative framework. In Average Family, the father Nathan, is the character who initiates change and it is up to him to convince his family to participate in the TV show. In Lynne Alvarezís Esperanza Rising, the protagonist Esperanza, and her mother lose their house and lifestyle upon the death of her father. Though there is a glimmer of hope when Esperanza's mother refuses to marry her father's chauvinistic brother for financial stability, Esperanza and her mother are separated by the US-Mexican border. Esperanza, forced to immigrate to the United States, learns the value of hard work. However, after saving money to help her mother also immigrate to the US, her savings are stolen by Miguel, her surrogate cousin and the son of her previous maid in Mexico. Though Miguel uses her money righteously, Esperanza is deprived of her victory as Miguel delivers her mother to her in the end. Similarly, in Snapshot Silhouette by Kia Corthron, Najma, a Somalian immigrant, must wait for her brother to achieve a sense of stability in the United States. In Brooklyn Bridge written by Melissa James Gibson, Sasha, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, struggles to write a paper for school. Though she finds inspiration and encouragement in all of her neighbors, it is her neighbor John who finally helps her face the obligation and tackle the paper.

The plays do not make any daring risks to challenge gender roles in American society, but that was not the projectís intent. The book presents the many faces of America as it set out to do, rather than claiming to be a progressive feminist anthology for youths. Thus, the anthology as a whole offers four powerful plays that certainly address cultural obstacles and interracial challenges. They serve as a springboard to important discussions about race and ethnicity as well as the importance of community. Each play places its characters in unique and perplexing situations, and though the social roles are not boldly challenged, their interactions as members of a larger team and as important pieces of a diverse community deliver triumphant endings. These plays are a must read for any theatre practitioner working with youths, and are also well suited for theatre productions performed by young people themselves. After all, if they have all the ingredients to spark meaningful discussions, why not employ the plays to offer an embodied experience for youths to explore the various obstacles present in each story?

     — Reviewed by Danielle N. Sather, Texas A&M University



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