Fueled by an anonymous comment left on my blog, I have decided to write a new entry (for the three of you who care). This anonymous person expressed the wish that I comment on the Blank Theatre's Young Playwrights Festival. I'm not sure what relation they have to the festival, or why they so desperately wish to hear my thoughts on the subject, but whatev's. Since I have no new blogs of my own in me (I'm writing like a mofo...and mofo's write like...well, people that write a lot), why don't I comment on the teenage-written shows I've seen this month?
Okay, so last weekend was the first week of the Young Playwrights Festival. For those of you who don't know, The Blank Theatre puts out a call to the teenage playwrights of America and asks them to send their plays. Then they choose the twelve shining stars and stage them. I was first involved in the festival when they staged my play "Algor Mortis" in 2002.
This year, for the second time, I was on the Selection Committee. This means I read a buttload of scripts and helped choose the ones that I felt were the finest pieces of theatre. In amongst the high school comedies and "overbearing parent" dramas, there were many beautiful, funny, thought-provoking scripts that showed talent beyond the ages of their writers. And while none of them reached the sublime level of Yelena Moskovich's "The Sandwich Conscience" (a winner from two years ago, one of the finest one-acts I've ever read or seen), there were some real winners.
The first week saw an unusually good week for the Young Playwrights Festival, with two very promising voices. But first, we'll talk about Matt Grossman's "To Albany!" Grossman is a 14-year-old from New York City who wrote a political comedy about a doofus running for State Senator, and the doofus that covers his campaign. For being 14, Grossman shows some promise of being a good sitcom writer. It was nice to have a comedy with some intelligence behind it, even if the production went for the easy joke.
The second show of the week was the highlight. Jessica Juhrend is a home-school 16-year-old from South Dakota whose "Restless Peace" was a highlight of the 2004 festival. Her submission this year was "American Cheese", and judging by these two scripts, she has an incredible future in writing. This play centered around a father having three conversations with her daughter (who ages from 10 to 15 to 20), all while making a sandwich (what is with the sandwich-making plays at the YPF being so damn good?). The characters were exceedingly well-drawn, their dialogue was witty while staying grounded (VERY difficult to do), the cast was near-flawless and the direction was mostly tight (the choice of song and the overlong game of Tag were iffy, but those are minor complaints). Juhrend joins the ranks of Tessa Leigh Williams and Kit Steinkellner as emerging female playwrights to watch.
The third show was my favorite script in the festival, and as will sometimes be the case with the YPF, the production couldn't match it. The play was called "Noel" by Lisa Meyers. It was a beautiful, whimsical, original work that, through rewrites, miscasting and some funky direction, lost a bit of its edge. Suddenly, the magical world that Meyers had created was given some misguided parallels to "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Carol", and the frenetic sense of a world in which anything can and will happen was not fully realized. Still, it retained a lot of its heart, power and beauty.
Next week will bring us Justin Kuritzkes' "Death and Taxes" (a charming comedy from a 15-year-old), "Jane Err" by Erica Drennan & Hannah Dean (a spoof of "Jane Eyre") and Erica Richardson's "Wasp" (one of the finest scripts in the bunch). You'll be hearing about these three in the next week.
Oh, and I'd also like to take this moment to applaud the incredible scripts that ended up not making it in the festival. There was Eric Levitz's "Penny", whose level of comic absurdity reached a climax with the lead character's father bloodied and having accidentally killed a truck filled with puppies. 13-year-old Kate Bethany Herzlin's "Happy Birthday To You" was a very promising 9/11 drama that had some really interesting ideas. Both Max Cuddy's "Getting Free" and Amy Claussen's "Remains" were very powerful scripts that unfortunately needed a great deal of cutting. And the saddest omission in this year's festival is Lucas Levya's "Death on Flagler". The dark comedy centered around two men selling hot dogs on a Miami street, when suddenly a buffalo collapses in front of them. It was quirky, witty and took a surprising twist. Levya is a promising voice whose work unfortunately goes over some people's heads. I'd love to read more of his work.
Viva la YPF!!!
I used to be involved in the festival first as an intern, then as an actor. But I no longer live in LA. I like to keep up to date with the type of show they are producing-- and you can't tell anything from the descriptions on the flyer. So while searching last year, I found your blog.
glad you enjoyed flagler