Surface, Mary Hall. Most Valuable Player and Four Other All-Star Plays for Middle and High School Audiences. Smith & Kraus, 1999. ISBN 1-57525-178-7. $16.95. 320 pp. A 6-12 Reviewed by Nancy Hovasse This collection contains several plays originally available as single copies. Although some of these works have been reviewed as individual plays in past issues, they are reviewed again as part of this important new collection. Surface has done our field a great service with Most Valuable Player and Four Other All-Star Plays for Young Audiences by creating an anthology of works that are perfect for junior and high school audiences. This often ignored audience will revel in these five plays that speak directly to their life experience and emotional journey. Producers, both educational and professional, will appreciate Surface’s largely optimistic yet honest storytelling. In his insightful introduction to the anthology, Graham Whitehead offers what he considers to be the “underlying mantra” of this collection:”We must embrace the responsibility of making choices and living with the consequences.” Although the anthology could be described as offering social issues plays, the scripts are well crafted and character driven so that they do not seem to preach. Instead, they offer glimpses into various situations in which individuals have choices to make with life altering repercussions. In this anthology, Surface has assembled plays that capture the emotional journey of the young characters she creates, as well as the imagination of the audience. Dealing with a plethora of real life, contemporary issues, participating in these plays either as actor, audience member, or simply as reader will provide junior and high school age students with the knowledge that at least one playwright is listening. A review of each play follows: Most Valuable Player. Most Valuable Player, created collectively with the California Theatre Center in 1984, provides contemporary young theatre audiences an entrance into the racial strife in America during the 1940s. At the center of the play are the life and ultimate triumph of Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play professional baseball for an American major league ball club. Opening with Robinson's childhood, Surface expediently renders his journey from a child spurned from a neighborhood ballfield because of the color of his skin, to winner of the 1949 “Most Valuable Player Award.” Littered with racial epithets, the script illustrates the injustice that has victimized African Americans throughout the past century. Fortunately, the integrity of Robinson as the protagonist supports the dramatic action of the script well enough that the audience is not distracted by the offensive language. A perfect script for touring companies, it can be produced with five actors using very minimal sets and costumes. As with many of the plays in this collection, the script demands a great deal from actors, who will be called upon to play multiple roles. The script also poses challenges to the director; the staging of several different baseball sequences is crucial to the success of the production.
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