Produced by Pegasus Theatre Chicago
Playing at Chicago Dramatists
It’s a new year, and Pegasus Theatre starts it off as usual by nurturing a new generation of playwrights. The Young Playwrights Festival is a year-long citywide event to which high schoolers submit their one-act play scripts. Among 500 entries, a few are selected for development by theatre professionals, and the results are performed at Pegasus’s home at Chicago Dramatists. This year the developers include some fairly well-known Chicago artists, including Lavina Jadhwani, who directed Our Little Secret, the first of the night’s three plays. All three productions do their creators proud, and form a diverse, but consistently amusing evening.
Our Little Secret, by Myka Buck of Kenwood Academy, is the first and most naturalistic of the three. It depicts a teenage girl, Tommasina (Danielle Rennalls), or Tommy, who is closeted and hiding her girlfriend from her deeply religious mother, Tracey (Shadana Patterson). The family has been under pressure since Tommy’s father got arrested for whatever illegal activity he was doing to contribute to their upkeep, and now, her mother is overworked and emotional distant. The most interesting feature of the character dynamics is that Tommy has no reason to think her mother is homophobic. In fact, she has an openly lesbian friend who drops by the house all the time, and Tracey is supportive of their relationship. Rather, it seems Tommy is uncomfortable with being emotionally open with her mother in general, and considers these kinds of conversations to be her dad’s domain.
The second play is The Adventures of FeRb, by Taft High School’s Brian Hayes, and directed by Stage Left’s Jason Fleece. The capitalization of FeRb is of great importance. It stands for Iron and Rubidium, the elements for which FeRb (Chris Acevedo) was named, and having been apparently been raised in isolation, he’s very proud of this. But now, it’s his first day in high school, and he cheerfully struts in wearing his red pants and red shirt to get eaten alive (this play also showcases excellent work by costume designer Kate Setzer Kamphausen). At first, FeRb tries to hang with the goth kids, but gets chased away by their leader, Bradly (Eric G. Walter). He tries to make friends with the breakdancers and the nerds too, but it turns out that Bradly is the leader of every clique, and won’t let FeRb into any of them. FeRb will have to use all his brainpower if he wants to free the school from Bradly’s control. Acevedo has shown talent in the past for playing dorky characters with a lot of heart, and the contrast between him and Walter’s snide villain is hilarious.
This year’s grim reaper story, entitled A Cup of Souls and One Grim Reaper, Please, comes from Keauna Pierce of Lane Tech, and is directed by Pegasus’s own artistic director, Ilesa Duncan. The new psychopomp, Dave (Chris Cinereski), is sent to collect his first soul, Jackie (Patterson), and haul her off to Heaven or Hell. Jackie is a little miffed that her body will be found under a bag of potato chips, but makes friends with Dave, and he decides to watch Netflix with her instead of doing his job. That makes the Devil (Will Kiley) very upset, and angels descend to warn Dave that the saved are complaining that their souls aren’t getting collected. After the Devil takes matters into his own hands, Dave needs a pep talk from God (Rennalls) about his true place in the universe.
The last play involves the entire cast, symbolically tying up the evening. All eight actors are clearly happy to be part of the festival, and there was a strong feeling of comaradrie at opening. It helped that the three winning playwrights got five hundred dollars each. The Young Playwrights Festival clearly inspires the best in kids; two of them said in video interview that they submitted the plays as part of a class and didn’t expect to hear back, but when they did, they devoted themselves to making improvements. The final product is fun for the audience as well as the artists, and I think plenty more high schoolers who come with their schools to matinee showings will be inspired to do some creative writing of their own. You can see for yourself at public performances on weekends.
Reviewed January 4, 2016
For more information, see the 29th Young Playwrights Festival’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W Chicago Ave. Tickets are $30 with discounts for students and seniors.