Surprisingly, the biggest winner at this year’s Young Playwrights Festival, the annual dramatic writing competition cum educational outreach program, is not among the three lucky young writers whose plays were selected from nearly one thousand Chicago-area high-school student submissions. No, the real winner is Pegasus Players artistic director Alex Levy, who took the largest grant the Festival has ever seen and implemented, among other ambitious innovations, a mentorship program that paired this year’s young winners with three seasoned professional playwrights. As this year’s selection of funny, touching and imaginative plays prove—each one exuberantly staged on Tom Burch’s impressive unit set—it was money well spent. “Karma,” a “boy trying to get girl” urban romantic comedy by Northside College Prep High School graduate Enoch Abraham, crackles with good dialogue and is peppered with poetic-rich passages, a characteristic that easily reflects the first-rate playwriting language strengths of mentor Carlos Murillo. If Curie High School senior Scarlet May’s “In Your Dreams” (Lisa Dillman, mentor) isn’t quite as memorable, that’s probably because this coming-of-age tale involving two girls out on the town looks and sounds too similar to “Karma.” Wrapping things up is “Kid Kuisine,” a whimsical and entertaining comedy about a twentysomething’s coping mechanism—Star Wars lightsabers, Saturday morning cartoons and Nintendo included—for his childhood dysfunctional demons that fluidly alternates in narrative and tone between the naturalistic and the playfully absurd. Whitney Young High School co-writers Aaron Abolt and Marisha Hekmatpour, mentored by Mia McCullough, are encouraged to continue feeding their promising dramatic imaginations by getting to know contemporary playwrights David Lindsay-Abaire and Noah Haidle. Kudos to Levy for giving the Young Playwrights Festival something it was sorely lacking last year: promising dramaturgical voices worthy of encouragement and development. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
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