Teenage dramatists tackle mature topics
Posted August 1, 2012
A festival devoted to plays by high-schoolers? It sounds like a recipe for an evening of undercooked works about prom, schoolwork and the search for an effective acne medication.
As it turns out, that’s not the case. Friday’s edition of MadLab’s Young Writers Short Play Festival(there’s a different show on Saturday, but I couldn’t get there) does feature examinations of such youthful preoccupations as romance, parents and fears about the future. However, they’re more worldly than scholastic.
And the quality? It’s better than you might expect.
The most polished of Friday’s five plays is The Many-Splendored Thing, written by Piper Rasmussen and directed by Jim Azelvandre. Lauren Yobbagy plays Jemima, a teenage farm girl who encounters a mysterious stranger (Gabe Caldwell) one night in the barn. Subtly written and acted, it amounts to a spooky metaphor for the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.
The other four plays aren’t quite as awesome, but all show signs of developing talent.
Hannah Russell’s To Life, again directed by Azelvandre, inventively incorporates video images into the tale of a man (Caldwell) who’s determined to end his life. David Thonnings is funny as a stranger who tries to talk him out of it.
Happy Birthday John Allen, written by Sarah Carnes and directed by Jennifer Feather Youngblood, stars Stephen Woosley as a troubled veteran who can’t work up any enthusiasm for his birthday. It comes off as excerpts from a story rather than a finished tale, but it benefits from believable dialogue competently delivered by Woosley, Michelle Batt and Jessica Studer.
A Man Runs Into a Bar, co-written by Carl Burgason and Jessica Takos, sometimes seems talky because the characters expound at length about things happening elsewhere. Still, it introduces us to two interesting people who are likably portrayed by Woosley and Yobbagy under Scott Tobin’s direction.
The last offering in the Friday collection is Petty View From the Park Bench by Cody Troyan. It’s a sitcom-y piece that might work better if director Tobin slowed it down enough to develop the characters’ relationship. Bar playwright Burgason holds his own among the older actors by cutting a comical figure as the romantically unlucky Henry, but Caldwell doesn’t quite register as his friend Lars.
Frankly, I had my doubts about the Young Writers Festival when I first heard about it, but it now seems like a genius idea. Not only is it an educational boon for the writers and decent entertainment for the audience, but it should help out the theater’s bottom line. On opening night, at any rate, the authors’ parents and friends turned out in force.
Encouraging young playwrights seems to have perks for everyone concerned.
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