Sunday, February 8, 2015

Juniper; Jubilee

Play #13 (Make-up #2): Juniper; Jubilee by Janine Nabers

This is a short play about the pain of coming of age. Juniper is a young teenage girl whose adopted parents - an Afrikaaner doctor (Carl) and his American wife (Deena) - have just moved them to America from their home in South Africa. Juniper is uncomfortable in the gray world of the American suburbs until she meets a neighbor boy - Matt. The two of them become friends and even begin to date, but her mother objects. Every time Juniper begins to feel something for Matt, she hears the sound of African drums and feels pain in her pelvis. As things progress between the two of them the pain gets worse until she is surrounded by a vision of three women in African garb who surround her and cut her. Juniper's mother explains that, before they adopted her, her birth mother performed the traditional rite of female genital mutilation on her child, which was why Juniper found herself feeling pain at the hint of arousal. Her adopted mother assures her that her birth mother loved her, and did only what she believed to be right, and she tells her that some day they will find a way to heal her body so that she can feel peace and warmth when she is touched by a man. The play ends with Deena cradling Juniper and singing her an old African song.

As I mentioned, this is a short play, but it's good enough that I found myself wishing there were more of the play. I cared about Juniper so quickly that I wished I could spend more time with her - particularly in her moments of being haunted by the chorus of African women - one of whom is her birth mother. The simultaneous longing and violation she feels toward her African home is sweet and sad and so very human. And, of course, aside from being a girl who is traumatized by such an extreme event, she is also just a teenage girl who is trying to grow up, and the relatability of that familiar journey is only compounded by her more extreme circumstances. And the magic images of the women from her home town in the Sudan lend themselves to some really beautiful moments of theatricality. 

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