Pegasus Theatre Chicago presents the 30th Young Playwrights Festival, featuring four new works by Chicago high school students. Chosen from 600 submissions, these four plays are produced professionally as part of the theatre's mainstage season and provide the opportunity for students to workshop their pieces and have their work professionally directed, designed, and performed. Funny, intelligent, and moving, these short plays prove that young people deserve to have a platform and a voice in our culture, which so often unfairly dismisses them.
The Young Playwrights Festival features an ensemble of talented professional actors who perform in multiple shows. This helps create a sense of continuity and connection among the plays, in spite of their broadly varied subject matters and settings. The basic set remains the same as well, with different pieces added or removed to suit the environment of a given scene. Projections by Larry Nance and Deidre Searcy also contribute significantly to creating the world of each play.
The festival opens with Obsessed by Alexandra Obert, a play about social media and Internet stalking that centers on a man who falls for women a bit too hard. The play stretches its premise a little with the amount of information the protagonist is able to find about the object of his obsession online, but ultimately, the success of the female character, Violet, at both rejecting the protagonist's inappropriate advances and breaking off a toxic relationship redeems the story.
Guarding the Princess by Elyssa Saldana is a charming fantasy story about the relationship between a princess and the dragon who guards her. With dynamic and endearing characters, the play is both fun and heartfelt. Eye See All by Ricardo Salgado follows a young girl who succeeds at proving the existence of the Illuminati, but finds that doing so is more than she bargained for. I particularly enjoyed the character of the first female Illuminati member, who protests the organization being referred to as a "brotherhood."
But the crown jewel of the festival has to be Race to the Finish, a stunningly smart and powerful piece of satire about All Lives Matter and the treatment of racism and police brutality in our society at large and in Chicago specifically. Set in the afterlife, two victims of police brutality compete in a game show to reach the "freedom line," a task, we learn, that is in fact impossible.
Full of both subtle jabs—the white host of the game show's initials are KKK and he continually mispronounces one of the competitor's names—and striking moments of clarity, this hilarious and heavy script embodies the genre of satire better than most satirical works by adults and honestly captures the perspective of a young person living in a world that seems rigged against people like him. Playwright Sejahari Saulter-Villegas is an extraordinarily talented young man, and we can only hope that he continues with his writing career in the future.
The young people featured in this festival are smart and creative, and the perspectives they share in their scripts are as important and worthwhile as any adult work. Pegasus Theatre Chicago is doing good work by providing this opportunity for students, and I hope they will have success at producing this festival for another thirty years or more.
Dates: January 4 – 29, 2017
Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. with weekday student matinees
Location: Chicago Dramatists, 773 N. Aberdeen.
Tickets: $18 - $30. Available at the Pegasus Theatre Chicago website or by phone at 866.811.4111.