Young Playwrights’ Festival, written by several (see below), directed by Jeff Church. Produced by the Coterie Theatre (Kansas City). Copyright 2011. (Seen May 11, 2011.)
It has been four years since I’ve last taken in the Coterie’s annual Young Playwrights’ Festival. And I will readily admit that part of the reason I attended this year was the news that Pete Bakely would be playing Mrs. Claus in one of the pieces. This, I had to see.
Unlike the one in 2007, this grouping of seven (for the most part) short pieces were all comedies, and as Jeff Church indicated in his introductory speech, these played a bit with theatre conventions.
“The Clique Factor”, by Taylor Ayers, is a humorous modern-day Breakfast Club, with the different cliques in high school explaining how the system needs cliques in order to function, and each clique gets their five minutes to explain how if they were removed, the system as a whole would crumble. It’s funny because it’s true, and I didn’t have the heart to want to tell the writer that cliques don’t stop at high school.
“The Dealer of the Game”, by Alanis “Ali” Loftin, starts out with two characters meeting in the woods to get ‘the stuff’. Set up like a drug deal, it’s obvious it’s leading up to a punch line, you’re just not sure what. It also has the best comic line of the night, in my opinion (speaking of Twilight, one character asks if he’s a ‘vampire — a vampire who wants my sparkly junk’).
“December 25th”, by Holden Meier, is a not-so-typical visit from Santa to a little girl, played by Allison Banks, with some awesome facial expressions at the lunacy that ends up happening around her. Seeing Bakely as Mrs. Claus is definitely the highlight of the evening (especially since he keeps his beard), although Martin Buchanan playing three different elves with the help of two sock puppets is a close second.
“It’s All an ACT”, by Emma WitbolsFeugen, is noted as being an excerpt from a longer work, and I wouldn’t hesitate to see the full work. The basic story is of a student taking the ACTs, with an actor playing her consciousness, an actor playing the test, and a third playing the clock. Shelley Wyche has way too much fun playing the test. The story not only made me flash back to taking the ACTs and other standardized tests myself, but made me glad that I don’t have to do that any more.
“To Live and Die in Times New Roman”, by Taylor Kay Phillips, was my favorite piece and the most relatable to me. It’s a story of an author who consults her characters on the fact that she needs to kill one of them off. As a writer myself (I have a fantasy novel that will most likely never see the light of day, among other pieces), I know what it’s like to feel like your characters take on a life of their own. I still remember writing away, and suddenly realizing my main character wanted to sacrifice himself and make himself a martyr. It felt like it came from nowhere, and I didn’t want it to happen — and I sat there and argued with ‘him’ about the ending to my book. “You hold the strings,” says the character of Reed. “I also hold the scissors,” says the writer, Noel, as the decision is made.
“Amen”, by Chris Fielder (no relation — and I wonder if he gets his last name misspelled my way just as often as I get Fiedler misspelled his way), sounds like the setup to a joke: a scientist and a creationist meet in the woods, and are visited by a holy being. Kelly Rebecca Gibson as “Girl/Mariah” (i.e., the holy being) has way too much fun with the role (“it’s so much me-damned fun”, she says as explanation as to why she messes with the human race), and it’s short enough to where the joke doesn’t get old.
Finally, “Littler Red”, by Calhoun Johnson, was the longest piece — and was the weakest of the lot as a result. A modernistic Into the Woods-esque story of Little Red Riding Hood (who meets up with Hansel & Gretel), a couple of the scenes could’ve been trimmed, making the story tighter and more engaging as a result. The characters were good, and the basic story had its potential — it just felt a little too much, especially compared to the other shorter pieces.
All the plays were imaginative, funny, and thoughtful — and there were a couple that felt were better than some fully-produced plays I’ve seen recently. The Festival goes on again tonight, and more information can be found at www.coterietheatre.org.