In his curtain speech introducing this year's edition of the Young Dramatists Project, James Rayfield advised audience members that they were about to witness "a look at what young people are thinking."
Rayfield, the dramaturge for this year's project, said young people often aren't thinking about the things grown-ups would like them to think about, and the project's collection of plays make those subjects sex, love, freedom and death.
But they're also thinking about live theater in sophisticated ways and finding inspiration in the creative process.
The Young Dramatists Project annually allows high school students to submit their original plays to Gorilla Theatre, and the troupe stages the best with professional actors, directors and designers.
This year's playwrights, Hannah Mribiha (Northeast High School), Isabella Menna (Shorecrest Prep), Sarah Cohen (Berkeley Prep), Jillian Boyar (Bloomingdale High) and Alex Gonzalez (Hillsborough High), did not offer the strongest collection. The dramas try too hard to be important (certainly a trap many of us fell into at that time of our lives) and the one comedic piece just isn't clever enough.
But each piece has moments of startling insight or inventiveness. At the very least, they're all interesting early steps by promising playwrights.
Mribiha offers perhaps the most successful drama in this year's production. Icarus presents a variant on the familiar Greek parable, with Daedalus and Icarus escaping from a modern-day prison. It's interesting, but needs to be fleshed out. The characters, relationships and plot lurch along because they don't have time to develop gracefully.
Menna's It's in the Way You Heal tries desperately to be weird and semi-absurdist. It starts to become dry, but then it delivers a thought-provoking twist that makes the piece succeed.
Full Arc, by Cohen, feels like an early draft of a fascinating play. A teenage schizophrenic finds salvation through art. Cohen shows that she has genuine ideas, and the piece benefits from wonderful lighting effects by Megan Byrne and Eric Haak. But Cohen hasn't yet developed the mastery of dialogue that would bring her characters to life.
Boyar's A Room With Two People starts with a familiar absurdist premise — strangers who find themselves in an unfamiliar and inescapable place — but turns into a slight but provocative examination of guilt and redemption.
The one comedy is Alex Gonzalez's No Fap February. In a short video that precedes the piece, Gonzalez says he wanted to create raunchy comedy with a heart. He achieved the raunch and the heart, but not the comedy. His play, which blatantly borrows its plot from a Seinfeld episode, simply isn't funny. Gonzalez acts in his own piece and has enormous confidence and great appeal as an actor. He's very funny in that short taped piece, but his play doesn't evoke many laughs from the audience. (Teen audiences may find it funnier; it's inappropriate for anyone younger than that.)
How much someone enjoys this year's Young Dramatists Project depends largely on why he or she goes. Anyone looking for entertainment or enlightenment may be moderately disappointed; these young people just don't have the honed skills to deliver that yet.
But if it's approached as a look at early work of five fresh and burgeoning playwrights, it's a total success.
Marty Clear specializes in the performing arts. He can be reached at [email protected]