The lively, comic, sometimes bizarre art of the young playwright
The Second Annual Young Playwrights Festival has turned out to be one of the liveliest events of the theater season. The festival, presented by the Foundation of the Dramatists Guild and the Circle Repertory Company, comprises four full-fledged productions and three staged readings. A selection committee of top-flight professionals chose the winners from among 655 writers in 45 states. The youngest playwright was 10. All the dramatists were under 18 when their entries were submitted.
Judged by the samplings at the Circle Repertory Theater on Sheridan Square, the nonrealistic theater has made the most vivid impression on these particular playmakers. Or perhaps they're just doing their own thing. Their bent is for outlandish comedy, fantasy, and comic grotesquerie. Furthermore, these members of the TV generation employ the medium and its ubiquitous box almost exclusively for burlesque and satire.
The final and most ambitious work of this festival is ''The Birthday Present, '' by Charlie Schulman. The wacky plot concerns little Wallace (Christopher Durang), the chosen victim of his bullying sister (Deborah Rush) and the recipient of a bizarre 20-year-delayed birthday present from his physician father (Bill Moor). In his wild and woolly piece, Mr. Schulman fires away with cheerful abandon at numerous contemporary and sometimes dubious phenomena, from macho women and greedy divorce lawyers to TV talk-show hosts and sexual mores. The uproarious affair was staged by John Ferraro, with A. R. Gurney Jr. as dramaturg.
David Torbett's ''I'm Tired and I Want to Go to Bed'' applies the old pop song and the Faustus legend a la Christopher Marlowe to young Jerome (Greg Germann), an academic failure and the despair of his parents (Jean DeBaer and Edward Power). Jerome confesses that he makes things up ''because I want them to come true.'' The callow Faustian discovers too late the diabolical consequences of his deal with the devil's emissary (Novella Nelson). Director: Gerald Chapman; dramaturg: Michael Weller.
The opening play, ''A New Approach to Human Sacrifice,'' is a miniature horror farce in which author Peter Getty perceives his cartoon-TV-sitcom characters as if seen through a video screen. The tale concerns the grisly welcome awaiting an innocent adolescent (Mr. Germann) who arrives at the Wall household to collect his date (Blanche Baker) for the high school prom. Mr. Getty adeptly syncopates the inanities and banalities of the age of communication. The family conversation is a wall-to-wall jargon of jingle-ese. Director: Garland Wright; dramaturg: Wendy Wasserstein.
The most conventional of the four playlets is Richard Colman's ''Third Street ,'' a verismo piece about the farewell rendezvous of three high school friends (Keith Gordon, Robert Alan Morrow, Brian Tarantina). As they drink and smoke pot in a Brooklyn graveyard, Mr. Colman reflects ruefully on the changes that have come into their lives and the hopes that have already gone a-glimmering. Only one of the graduates can look forward to escape in the opportunity presented to him by a Princeton University scholarship. Director: Michael Bennett; dramaturg: Mr. Weller.
The common denominator of these festival plays is not merely their promise but their present accomplishment as fresh and appealing theater works. The sponsors have spared no effort to give the fledgling dramatists first-rate productions, from the guidance of seasoned directors and dramaturgs to the physical presentations. One salutes these talented young playwrights and hopes they will always have it so good.