Playwrights: Deja Jenkins, Daisianee Minenger, Taylor Vazquez, Steve Maloy. At: Pegasus Theatre Chicago at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets: 773-878-8864 or www.pegasustheatrechicago.org; $18-$30. Runs through Jan. 31
Pegasus Theatre Chicago, formerly known as Pegasus Players, has had its share of financial and artistic ups and downs in recent years. But the company had remained steadfast with producing its annual Young Playwrights Festival which showcases four contest-winning short plays written by Chicago high school students.
The 28th annual festival was inspired by the phrase "Something wicked interferes." In two of the plays, that wicked interference is spectral and otherworldly, while two others focus on decidedly human traits of wickedness.
In A Matter of Life ( And Maybe Death ), playwright Deja Jenkins of Whitney Young Magnet High School pits the 18-year-old Iris ( Sarah Patin ) against a youngish Reaper ( Christian JJ Anderson ). Iris refuses to be taken despite her comatose state, so she engages the Reaper in games of cards and conversation. It's a nice opener directed by Ilsea Duncan, especially with the questions of mortality and missed chances the production conjures.
Gang warfare in Detroit is the backdrop for Dare to be Different, by Daisianee Minenger of Providence St. Mel. Her drama follows the friendship between Rico ( Jose Nateras ) and Cornell ( David Goodloe ), who belong to rival gangs. While the sentiments explored in Dare to be Different are admirable and conceptually staged well by director Juan Ramirez, there are a lot of character and plot holes in this short work that should be addressed if Minenger plans on ever expanding it.
Taylor Vazquez of Lane Technical Academy tackles the greedy and superficial world of reality-TV cooking competitions in her play Dirty Spoons, which shows line chef Glen ( Nateras ) competing in a new series called Cooks off the Street. The only problem is that his fellow contestants are actually more famous and manipulative than he is. The cast, under director Duncan, certainly have loads of fun with the material, although I wish the writing was even more biting and full of satire.
A Faustian bargain is at the center of A Day at the Office by Steve Maloy of Whitney Young Magnet High School, this time with PR guy Andrew Stetson ( Adam M. Overberg ) willing to sell his soul in order to land the representation of the dubious corporation Infini. What's fun about Maloy's piece is how the devil's representative, Lucas Fervor ( Goodloe ), is able to manipulate and admit how he changes up his "evil" references depending upon the person and situation. The cast members also appear to be having plenty of fun with their characterizations under director Warner Crocker in this go round, too.
So there's a lot to admire and some things that could do with improvement with the 28th Young Playwrights Festival. Let's just be thankful that this forum for budding playwrights is still around and building upon its past traditions.