Aisle Seat

True Confession
I confess that I attended (OK, was dragged to) the performance of the Young California Writers Project at Magic Theater out of a sense of obligation. I was sure it was a good thing for me to do. I did not imagine, however, that I would have such a good time. I'm not kidding -- the quality of the work, 18 short plays written by eight high school students, was astonishing.

I have to keep reminding myself that I have no idea what it's like to be a teen-ager in 1996. When I was in high school, sometime after the Dark Ages but well before the Enlightenment, our biggest problems were getting detention for chewing gum. Today, kids have to consider what to do about a best friend who has moved up to heroin. Pregnancy was our biggest concern about sexual activity; we didn't have to worry that one moment of passion could possibly mean death. If nothing else, I was satisfied that I had been given a chance to see a little of what it's like to be young in these perilous times.

These budding playwrights, who worked intensively with Magic Theater's resident playwright, Gary Leon Hill, explored important issues like love and sex and parents with remarkable tenderness and exceptional skill. I'll never forget Iris Dror's painfully funny I Suck at the Viola. Tomo Aono's The Hunters offered a very creepy picture of a terrifying future. Eva Thomas' look at heroin addicts, Dirty Rig, was a heartbreaking expression of despair. Andrew Hedges' Pine Sol had the punch, and poignancy, of a New Yorker short story. Avila Hamp explored an Impressionist painting in an oddly appropriate expressionist style in Painting by Toulouse-Lautrec. I don't remember ever seeing a better examination of the pangs of young love than Audrey Haller's Neighbors. Ariana Regar's look at teens in the Haight was darkly hopeful, or maybe I just think it was. Genoa McDowell's Jack and Linda provided big laughs and great emotion.

This round of YCWP plays was written by students from School of the Arts High School in San Francisco, thanks in part to a generous grant from the San Francisco Giants Community Outreach Program. Nine actors -- Mary Ashley, Darren Bridgett, Colman Domingo, Andrew Hurteau, June Lomena, Dennis Matthews, Tanya Mayo, Greta Sanchez-Ramirez, and Johnna Schmidt -- performed 49 characters, directed by Mary Coleman, Steven Cosson, Amy Freed, Kent Nicholson, and Jayne Wenger. These actors and directors, who worked for a pittance, brought great skill to a seemingly impossible task. YCWP reminded me what theater can be when talent is combined with real passion. Thanks to the grand work of these writers and actors and directors, my faith in the future of the theater is restored.

By Deborah Peifer

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