Playwrights: Christopher Irving, Marisa Wallin, Damien Corteau-Chonka, Kate Newman
At: Pegasus Players, 1145 W. Wilson
Phone: (773) 878-9761; $12
Runs through: Feb 29
This marks the 18th year of the Young Playwright's Festival, a yearlong cycle of workshops, performances, and special programs, centered on teaching playwriting to Chicago high school students. The festival concludes with a citywide playwriting competition. Out of more than 650 entries this year, four plays were chosen (by a panel of Chicago actors, directors, and educators) for a professional production and a $250 prize for each playwright.
The four productions are a mixed bag of philosophy, farce, memoir, and absurdism. Overall, a criterion seemed to be a predilection for plays that did not exhibit much deference for conventional form, and in a couple of cases, regard for tried and true writing techniques such as creating characters for whom the audience can care. Instead, the four winning plays exhibit a special brand of 'originality.' Unfortunately, pretentiousness and self-indulgence mar each of the scripts.
The first play, Cryptic Philosophy, by Christopher Irving from Olive Harvey Middle College, is about destiny, and how a single act can influence an entire life. A good enough premise, but to support his thesis, the playwright relies too much on somewhat murky, often despicable teenage characters and a far-out story involving a made-up terminal disease.
Second, we have Yes, We Have No Bananas, by Marisa Walin of Northside College Preparatory School. Yes, We Have No Bananas is the biography of a woman purported to be the female founder of the surreal Dadaist art movement in the U.S. While Walin displays an impressive knowledge of the period and its other characters, and uses a creative conceit—having her character played by three different actresses at various stages of her life—the end result is, again, giving us no one to invest our emotional energy in, resulting in a tale that, while well-produced and acted, is often tedious.
Third comes Outpatient Care, by Damien Croteau-Chonka, of Northside College Preparatory School, which tries to be a farcical look at the lunacy of modern healthcare over the course of a few days in a nameless hospital. It has its funny moments—paramedics as pit crew and a too-sexy nurse—but overall, the subject matter is tired and the humor often forced and well, not funny. That much was demonstrated by the silence in the auditorium.
And last, we have Portrait of an Exile, by Kate Newman, of St. Ignatius. She writes a tale of Japanese internment camps of World War II, told from the perspective of a Japanese teenage girl who lived through the experience. This play was easily the best of the lot. The young girl is a character for whom we can care, and her story is well-documented and fluidly presented. Unfortunately, the monologue format of the story, which runs to about 40 minutes, gets tedious after awhile. The problem here is that while Portrait of an Exile may be a beautiful piece of writing, it would be better read on paper. It's simply not dramatic.
Overall, each student is given a polished production of his or her play. Chicago professional directors, designers and actors have come together to bring each to slick and impressive life. Perhaps production values will one day meet content for some of these young playwrights. The potential is certainly there.