This year’s Young Playwrights Festival at City Theatre featured six short plays on a range of subjects, many of unexpected maturity and sophistication given the age range of the writers. The plays, selected from over three hundred submitted by local middle and high school students, were directed by Steven Wilson and performed with great sensitivity and energy by a cast of eight local actors.
Perhaps most notable about the festival was the stylistic and thematic variety of work on display. The writing ranged from realist drama on one end (exemplified by both Michelle Do’s “Cologne,” which tells the story of a soldier stationed in Afghanistan whose wife loses her memory in an accident, and Casey Zadinski’s “The Cellar,” in which two teens find connection and solidarity in their shared experience of domestic violence) to fanciful parody on the other (a category into which I would put both Weston Custer’s Twilight Zone takeoff “Attack of the Psycho Geese from Outer Space!” and Drew Praskovich’s biting deconstruction of Barbie world in “Dream House”). In between, there is Joseph Bornes’s “Bat Boy,” which tells a kind of fairy tale of a teen who gets a magic bat from his grandfather that not only cements their relationship but also helps repair a broken friendship, and Michael Kelly’s “Conflict,” a work that might best be described as “hyperreal” or “metareal” insofar as it both instantiates and focuses on the challenges faced by the writer who seeks to make his writing “real.”
Wilson’s direction was keenly attuned to these stylistic differences, and he and the creative team found a distinct stage language and look for each of the six plays. The costume, lighting and sound design (Hannah Prochaska, Regina Tvaruzek, and Steve Shapiro) were particularly effective in setting the mood, tone, and energy for each of the works, especially given the necessary simplicity of the set. And the performers demonstrated an admirable versatility as they dove into roles that ranged from the serious to the downright silly; especially memorable in the latter respect were Ross Kobelak and Jackie Baker as vain, daffy Ken and Barbie dolls in “Dream House,” and Matt Henderson as a child with an overactive imagination in “Attack of the Psycho Geese…”.
If these talented young writers are representative of the future of dramatic writing, then, dear reader, we have much to look forward to as they continue to hone their craft.