Pegasus Players 1994 Young Playwrights Festival | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Pegasus Players 1994 Young Playwrights Festival


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Pegasus Players

The results of a play contest may reflect the concerns of the contestants or the judges' biases, but all four of the plays selected for this year's Pegasus Players Young Playwrights Festival deal with the difficulties of integration with one's society. Jennifer Asidao's Fish and Rice is set in a Filipino American household on the eve of Mahalika's marriage to a white man--an alliance her younger sister Lisa regards as a betrayal of the culture she is too young to have experienced herself and therefore idealizes. Ayanna M. Saulsberry's Beef Jerky recounts the sad tale of 15-year-old Shaia, whose father's faultfinding makes her easy prey for Sean, the sweet-talking 19-year-old drug dealer next door. In Sand, Maria Hernandez presents us with Jeremy and Sasha, two adolescents whose mutual fantasy of a pastoral life together bonds them. My Self or Myself, by Latisha Hester and Spencer Edwin Gould, explores the trials of Xavier and Allison, an interracial couple whose relationship draws hostility from both their cultures. Xavier's pal--a born-again Muslim--denounces Allison as a "white vampire," while her father offers to pay Xavier's entire college tuition if he'll simply go away, a deal Xavier's friends advise him to accept.

One of the points made in these plays is that bigotry is often the product of naivete. Preparing for a visit to the Philippines, Lisa smugly declares that she'll stay only with families who share her vegetarianism, and is taken aback when her mother warns her that the vegetarians there will likely be those who are simply too poor to afford meat. Allison's father automatically assumes that the scholarship the studious, bespectacled Xavier hopes to receive is an athletic one. (Of course, Allison's wealthy North Shore family, unlimited shopping privileges, and shallow sidekicks Chad and Buffy may be inadvertent bits of naive stereotyping by the authors.)

Sometimes a play's incidental details reveal something of teenagers' milieus and their assumptions about them. Both My Self or Myself and Beef Jerky include teenage drug peddlers, an occupation introduced as casually as any other after-school job. Upon learning he's soon to be a father, Sean nobly vows to stand by his woman (a declaration met with groans of incredulity by the mostly-young audience on opening night) and to sell all the harder to support his family. A premature pregnancy may also be the fate of Jeremy and Sasha, trysting on their lonely beach, building literally on the sand their dreams of the many children they'll have. We're given no real hint of their future, nor are we told what becomes of Sean and Shaia after her father drives them out into the snow. And though Lisa finally agrees to attend Mahalika's wedding, one gets the impression that only time and experience will forge any lasting peace between them. In fact the only play that actually proposes some sort of solution to its social dilemmas is My Self or Myself, in which Xavier finally confronts the disbelieving Allison and her embarrassed father with evidence of her father's scheme to thwart their love. We don't need to hear anything more--the fact that they're talking to one another as equals signals the beginning of a reconciliation and an end to the ignorance that breeds prejudice.

There are some flaws here. Sand is overwritten, with pseudo-profound observations in the Zoo Story mode--"If I didn't know you for so long, you'd piss me off," says Sasha, to which Jeremy replies, "You're a delusional personality . . . there's a difference between knowing someone and knowing who they are." But director Warner Crocker provides sufficient kinetic interest to compensate for any hollow wordiness. More stage business might also have saved Fish and Rice, directed by Mark Lococo: too often it's reduced to two characters sitting passively and swapping "this is how I feel" pronouncements (frequently in unintelligible accents).

Overall, however, the 11 cast members handle their multiple roles with competence and versatility--especially impressive is Byron S. Stewart as Sean and as the pompous Khalib, Xavier's militant friend. The technical crew zip us from one locale to another with smoothrunning skill. Adding to the enjoyment on opening night were the responses of the youthful audience, who made no secret of their sentiments. When it looked as if Xavier would trade love for money, cries of "Sellout!" rang through the auditorium, and the denouement of Beef Jerky, when the cruel father's entire family finally told him off, met with an endorsement so enthusiastic that it halted the show for several minutes. It's said that there can be no spectacle without spectators, and whatever the shortcomings of this year's roster, the festival couldn't have asked for a more attentive or enthusiastic audience.

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