The beauty of the Playwrights Project, the 6-year-old San Diego organization designed to foster the work of young writers, is that it goes beyond just encouraging writing through workshops at California schools. It also encourages nascent self-expression, self-awareness and general communication skills.
So it’s not surprising that the program’s annual showcase production, “Plays by Young Writers,” is not so much a statewide talent hunt as it is a look at teen-agers discovering their own voices.
True, some of these voices can be clunkers (profanity that seems to be meant to pass for humor and insight . . . or rebellion without any clearly discernible cause), but there are also some winners from these green pens. The current series of five one-acts is now playing at the Bowery Theatre’s Kingston Playhouse through Jan. 27.
In “Hauntings,” despite a certain obviousness in plot, much of the dialogue is decidedly skillful. The story by 16-year-old Gordon Cox of Santa Barbara concerns a haunted house that draws out the secrets of its inhabitants.
But the real winner is “When Reality Refuses to Cooperate” by Robert Sayles, a 17-year-old Poway High School senior.
His story is about child molestation, but rather than being a conventional melodrama, the story is subtly and powerfully constructed. It begins with a friendship between two boys that later turns out to be a boy and an imagined friend, a friend whom the boy wishes he had. The molester moves in and out of the play like a bad dream. The boy tries to keep reality at bay through the power of his imagination, which is so considerable that you end up believing him when he projects his pain onto someone else.
Sayles said he got the idea from a writing exercise in which a teacher asked students to write down an anonymous secret on a piece of paper that would be read aloud to the class. One-third of the students wrote that they had been molested as children. That not only led to Sayles’ play, but to a commitment to work with the molested as a peer counselor. His experience and understanding show.
Despite the intrusion of some banalities that seem inspired by handbook psychology, such as your best friend is inside yourself, etc. etc., “When Reality Refuses to Cooperate” is a remarkably mature achievement, movingly acted by its young cast, nicely directed by local director Nonnie Vishner and elegantly produced by the Playwrights Project.