Dhane Harrison & Hermoine Bean-Mills in Dead Playwrights Society. Photo by Zoë Peterson.
Young Playwrights Festival 2017
Created, directed, and performed by Walden Theatre Conservatory students
Festival directed by Keith McGill
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I saw the very first Young Playwrights Festival from Walden Theatre, which was in the early 1980’s, making it almost as long a tradition as their spring Shakespeare Festival. At that time it was bracing and honest, but also indicative of a not entirely atypical teenage self-obsession.
More than 30 years later, the writing strikes me as satisfyingly lacking in that navel-gazing quality, or at least not dominated by it, with a stronger point-of-view away from self, and largely replaced by a wider perspective on the world. If at times the material feels underdeveloped, that actually seems right; these are young people exploring their talents with what are, to them, new ideas. They and their writing are a work in progress, and this festival is a peek behind their curtain. Under the supervision of Keith McGill, the production is student written, directed, performed, with a technical crew of students to boot. Death is always a potent and suggestive theme, and it gets its first tryout in Man in Black, by Riley Mayberry. A small fantasia centered on Jack, who enters Limbo after an accident, it is a mildly provocative start that features a nicely disaffected, deadpan delivery from Ruby Osbourne as Jack.
The Café by Emma Schweitzer, finds three young women on break from their shift waiting tables, including two (Faythe Shearin & Makayla Roth) working through a rocky patch in a romantic relationship. Teenage playwrights often can bring a fresh, disingenuous sense of discovery to relationship dynamics, and Schweitzer charts an honest nugget of such an interaction, with important emotional readings from Shearin and, most especially, Roth.
Meaghan Northup’s Camping charts an amusing lost-from-the-group vignette that boasts a scene-stealing comic turn from Demi Handley and an understated but still hilarious deadpan turn from Aiden Kash as the Teacher in charge of the expedition.
Another examination of romance, this time of a more obsessive nature, arrives in The Girl at the Bakery by Joseph Craigo-Snell. It is a brief sketch of the mystery of infatuation that allows for a fascinating performance by Lily Stanley. The cast for this festival is made up primarily of CTC students with less stage experience, and the neophyte positioning of these young actors is leavened by sure and singular choices for character. Ms. Stanley finds credible emotional angst with an vulnerability that seems achingly real.
The Waiting Room, by Delaney Hildreth, is a more in-depth investigation of the themes from Man in Black, with an obvious debt to Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, but it also draws in considerations about school shooting massacres and violent death that might be an overreach. Still Hildreth shows thoughtfulness in the writing that shows promise. The preoccupation with mortality and the afterlife in multiple pieces also explodes the typical narrative that teenagers don’t ponder the deeper questions.
There is a lot of humor in the evening, but Conner Madison’s Super Struggles is the best straight up comedy. The premise of a super hero whose date night with the wife is threatened by his arch-nemesis manages to be clever and fresh in a parody that treads very familiar ground, casting the relationship between good and evil-doer along the terms of an extra-marital affair. Spencer Neicter stands out with his eccentric comic turn as Mister Malicious alongside Abel Sgro’s easygoing and nerdy Alpha Man.
The program nicely builds in complexity, ending with Dead Playwrights Society, a literary Twilight Zone episode by Zoë Peterson that imagines a young playwright of today summoning the spirits of great writers Will (not William) Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and Jane Austen. Peterson shows off her literary bona fides by referencing Dante, Arthur Miller, and others in her dialogue, and gives her meta parallels enough individual twists to avoid feeling derivative.
As a whole, the evening plays as a unique theatrical experience that leaves the stage in less than 90 minutes, refusing to overstay its welcome and leaving the audience wanting more. It was also gratifying seeing new faces before they move on to more advanced endeavors. The 2017 iteration of Young Playwrights is serious but never takes itself too seriously; a good recipe for success.
Young Playwrights Festival 2017
February 15-18 @ 7:30pm
February 18 @ 2:00pm
Tickets – Evenings:
$15 adult, $10 student/senior
Matinees (Saturdays and Sundays):
$10 adult, $8 student/senior
Nancy Niles Sexton Stage
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.