Young Playwrights in the Spotlight

Works offered at festival reflect impressive range and sophistication. THEATER

1989 YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL Seven plays by authors under the age of 19. A production of the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild. ONE of those annual events awaited with eager anticipation by the New York theater community is The Young Playwrights Festival - and thus far in the festival's eight years of existence, playgoers have not been disappointed.

Judged by the four works receiving full productions at Playwrights Horizons, the latest selection of winning works reflects a sophistication that might be considered beyond the years of the entrants (all the authors were under 19 when their scripts were submitted).

``Painted Rain,'' by then 15-year-old Janet Allard is the only work focusing directly on a teenage situation. Miss Allard deals sensitively and perceptively with the tensions and mutual affection between two young orphans awaiting adoption: the rambunctious Teddy (Kimble Joyner) and the more withdrawn Dustin (Christopher Shaw), preoccupied with ambitions to be a painter. The play's ending is heartfelt rather than facile.

``Finnegan's Funeral Parlor and Ice Cream Shoppe,'' by Robert Kerr (18), is a wildly black comedy about a family of mad morticians headed by a paterfamilias (James McDonnell) determined to adjust the funeral business to the age of gimmicky consumerism.

In ``Twice Shy,'' the most mature of the four playlets, Debra Neff (18) considers the problems of Louise (Katherine Hiler), a remarkably recovered rape victim, as she seeks to sort out a variety of relationships. Immediately involved are her departing young homosexual apartment mate (Ray Cochran), her domineering mother (Lauren Klein), and a potential new boyfriend (Mark W. Conklin). The cast responds to the writing, which is insightful, complex, and comic.

``Peter Breaks Through,'' by Alejandro Membreno (18), plunges Peter Pan into the lower depths of New York City pimping and prostitution for a vulgarly impudent send-up of Sir James Barrie's childhood fantasy. A recent preview audience found it hilarious rather than offensive.

The productions in the eighth annual festival (through Oct. 8) adhere to the high professional standards that have come to be expected of these yearly events sponsored by the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild. The plays have been directed, respectively, by Mary B. Robinson, Thomas Babe, Mark Brokaw, and Mr. Babe. Allen Moyer designed the adaptable sets, with costumes by Jess Goldstein and lighting by Karl E. Haas.

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