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Comedy, Fantasy Melodrama - From Writers Under 19

THEATER: REVIEW

By John BeaufortSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 3, 1990



NEW YORK

THE 1990 YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Four plays by writers under the age of 19. At Playwrights Horizons through Oct. 6. NOW in its ninth season, the Young Playwrights Festival has presented the works of more than 200 youthful dramatists in professional productions, staged readings, or workshops. All of the writers were under 19 when their scripts were submitted for consideration by the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild.

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This year's quartet of samplings at Playwrights Horizons sustains the high standards that have marked the progress of this enterprising project. The 1990 selections range from comic fantasy to melodrama and from contemporary New York City to present-day West Indies.

Gregory Clayman's ``Mutterschaft'' opens the program with a wry comedy about a mother-daughter relationship in what might be described as post-liberation USA. Mom (Leslie Lyles) is a mess, a single parent who regards mothering as a kind of part-time hobby. Daughter Opal (Jane Adams) copes with her irresponsible parent while pursuing her own independent course.

Enter Klaus (Victor Slezak), an artsy avant-gardist nicknamed ``Hitler'' by Evan (Harold Perrineau), Opal's sensible black schoolmate. Klaus, an experienced seducer, transfers his attentions from Mom to Opal and the predictable occurs. Mom belatedly wakes up to the fact that very much has been amiss in her discharge of maternal responsibilities. Mr. Clayman (17 when the play was submitted) ends his comedy with a wan footnote.

``Believing,'' by Allison Birch, transports the audience to the West Indies for a genre piece that begins humorously and ends in melodramatic tragedy. Frank (Michael Rogers) is a would-be professional cricketer who has had to settle for a mundane job from which he has just been fired. Angry and intoxicated, Frank beats his longsuffering wife (Cynthia Martells) for suspected infidelity and rapes his step-daughter (Chandra Wilson), an act which leads to the play's violent climax. Discursive though it is, ``Believing'' holds the spectator's attention throughout Miss Birch's extended observation of the fragility and squalor of poverty-stricken lives. The play is the product of a then- 17-year-old.

Gilbert David Feke's ``Psychoneurotic Phantasies'' is a farcical send-up of psychology's traditions and father-figures. Mr. Feke introduces the nonsense by having Freud (Walter Bobbie with an Austrian accent) announce: ``I'm a very complex guy.'' A highlight of the foolery is ``Family Freud,'' a TV game show pitting the Adlers against the Jungs. While some of his jokes prove less amusing than others, Mr. Feke obviously did his homework and it frequently pays off.

``Hey Little Walter'' explores the underworld fringe of juvenile drug-dealing and violence. Carla D. Alleyne's protagonist is the Walter of the Title (Harold Perrineau), a teen-ager whose father left home permanently and whose hard-working mother (Cynthia Martells) struggles to support the family. Miss Alleyne presents a graphic case history of Walter's ultimately fatal career as a drug courier - with its attendant deceits, brief riches, and false promises. The play was written when the author was 16.

As always, the Young Playwrights Festival honors its commitment ``to introduce young playwrights to the profession at its highest levels of achievement.''

The splendid 26-member cast has been directed, in the order of the plays presented, by Mark Brokaw, Clinton Turner Davis, Michael Mayer, and Gloria Muzio, with sets by Allen Moyer, costumes by Claudia Stephens, and lighting by Pat Dignan. Nancy Quinn is the festival's producing director: Sheri M. Goldhirsch is managing director.