Critical Praise


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Playing for Keeps


This is a play about a child's world, about how an apartment can seem like a prison to a ten year old girl whose narcissistic mother wants to control her every move and use her as a listening post and a servant to the needs of her own wild imaginings.

This is ten year old Jessica's life with her mother, Estelle, until Toni walks into it. Toni is to be their boarder. A novelist friend of her parents' when they were still married, Toni is imaginative, open, and exciting to Jessica, everything that her mother is not. Toni begins to play paper dolls with Jessica during the long Fall afternoons when Jessica has come home from school. Through these games, she is able to impart some of her ideas about the world to Jessica. She has grown up in China, the child of missionaries, and her perspective is international and political in contrast to Estelle's extremely provincial one. Jessica is enchanted.

A triangle develops. Estelle is jealous of Toni's relationship with Jessica and disturbed by it. Whenever she can, Estelle attempts to find reasons why Toni and Jessica should not play their games. Act I ends as Toni and Estelle have an argument because Toni has taken Jessica to see the movie GREAT EXPECTATIONS

In Act II, Toni's health begins to disintegrate. She gets headaches and becomes tired very easily. One of her monologues indicates to the audience that this physical illness is a prelude to a possible mental breakdown. Toni plays less with Jessica, and Jessica becomes upset and angry. Estelle becomes increasingly tense and tells Jessica that Toni is going out of her mind.

Finally Estelle gets panicky and phones a mental institution. Two men come, put Toni in a straitjacket and take her away. Jessica is terrified and heartbroken as she listens to Toni screaming while the men carry her out into the street. Estelle then repudiates Toni and her breakdown and redecorates the living room (where Toni has been sleeping) just enough so that it looks as if Toni has never been there.

As the play ends, Jessica sits, absorbed in her game with the paper dolls. She is playing both her own and Toni's parts, and she leaves us with the realization that Toni has left a legacy for her and that she will survive.

Last updated November 26,2006