For the third year in a row, I have the pleasure of reviewing Pegasus Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival, an annual event that receives over 500 submissions of one act plays from Chicago teenagers. From this enormous pool, three winners are selected and their scripts are workshopped and professionally produced as part of Pegasus Theatre’s season. While this is hardly the first year that the festival has addressed social justice, issues like homophobia, racism, and gentrification are at the center of this year’s production. It’s clear to me that young people are centering fights for equality in their lives and their art, and this festival is a great example.
The first play, A Green Light by Alexis Gaw, tells the story of a high school student named Patrick who comes out to his best friend and gets a disappointing response—the classic “of course I love and accept you but can you never mention being gay in front of me because it makes me uncomfortable thanks.” The play unpacks the casual homophobia of statements like these and pushes back against the idea that just existing as a queer person in the world is political. I was intrigued by the use of Internet spaces in the play—when Patrick faces rejection in his real life, he finds comfort and advice among a group of queer online friends, a testament to the ways that social media can positively influence our lives.
The second play, Fragile Limbs by Anonda Tyler, is the only one to move out of the territory of realism and play with symbolism and poetic monologues in a play that chronicles the lives of Faith, who is grappling with the loss of loved ones to gun violence, and Hope, who is living with an abusive mother. Both teens find themselves contemplating suicide, and it’s only in their connection to each other that they can see a way out. Tyler is smart to choose an unconventional form to tackle this topic; something so heavy is hard to contain in a realistic format, and the depth of the character’s emotions comes through clearly in her writing.
My favorite play of the bunch is the third and final show, Good Strong Coffee by Luna MacWilliams. In it, two young adults struggle to balance running the coffee shop their deceased parents left to them with their own lives and careers. All the while, the threat of gentrification looms as they try to maintain the authenticity of their neighborhood coffeehouse. With rich, believable characters and a strong sense of place, Good Strong Coffee is driven by relationships, and it’s easy to connect to the triumphs and tragedies of each of the folks onstage.
Young people have clearly had enough of theatre that centers on straight white men and are ready to bring their own experiences to the stage. If you’re looking to feel the pulse of the future of theatre, Pegasus Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival is a great place to start.
Location: Chicago Dramatists, 773 N. Aberdeen.
Dates: January 3 – 27, 2019
Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.
Tickets: Tickets are $18 for students, $25 for seniors and $30 for general admission and are available at the Pegasus Theatre website or by phone at 773.878.8864.
All photos by Michael Courier.