KPBS AIRDATE: January 13, 2006
This is Our Youth. It’s the name of a play, and the theme for the month on local stages. Young people are in the spotlight in a variety of venues.
Coming up at Diversionary Theatre, there’s a staged reading of the play that established the reputation of playwright/screenwriter Kenneth Lonergan. “This is Our Youth” concerns three lost, disillusioned souls on the Upper West Side of New York at the dawn of the Reagan era. They’ll be played by a trio of our most active and talented young performers: Brandon Walker, Rachael Van Wormer and Tom Zohar.
On the Old Globe’s Cassius Carter Centre Stage, the Playwright’s Project just opened its 21st annual Plays by Young Writers, winners of the local group’s statewide competition. In professional productions and readings, nine plays by writers age 11 to 18 will be presented in two alternating programs, featuring characters as diverse as an obsessive lover and an immature tomato.
And on the Lyceum stage, there’s the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, centerpieces of the spooky Robert Louis Stevenson story of the good and evil within us all that was turned into a musical by composer Frank Wildhorn and lyricist Leslie Bricusse . Highly overwrought and repetitive, filled with a series of spotlight-stealing solo anthems, the show is musically quite demanding. So it posed another huge challenge to director Shaun T. Evans of California Youth Conservatory, or CYC. His last production, “Ragtime,” was also a killer, but he and his large cast, which included 9 year-olds, really nailed the tone and tenor of the piece. This time, the ensemble is older and smaller: 19 performers, average age, 19. Only some of them are up to the task, vocally or dramatically. The night I was there, the unequivocal standout was Jennifer Harrell as poor ill-fated Lucy, the prostitute with depth and ambition, who is the unfortunate paramour of both the good doctor and his schizophrenic demon self. As that split personality, Joseph Ahern makes an impressive theatrical debut, with stunning, hair-driven transformations, just like the Broadway original, Robert Cuccioli . But vocally, he’s much less convincing and consistent. Kezia Liu displayed a lyrical soprano as the doctor’s strong-minded fiancée. The cathouse scenes showed the most wholesome-looking, modest ladies of the night you’re ever likely to behold.
The company’s mission is to bring young people together onstage with adults and professionals. Director Evans, a member of Actor’s Equity, often performs, gracefully showing how it’s done – with his understated charm and effortless, syrup-smooth voice. Most of these young folks have a long way to go, but they’re obviously working hard and giving it their all.
This month, youth-watchers get lots of tantalizing opportunities to catch the talent of today, and maybe even the stars of tomorrow.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.