(888) 277-4253

THEATER REVIEWS: San Diego Rep presents "Plays By Young Writers"

A red rhino wants to be part of the elite (blue) rhino squad. Flies fly into people’s mouths and take over their brains. The futuristic Fiction Bureau purges literature of anything that smacks of fantasy or imagination, leaving only the facts. An old man goes fishing and has a day full of surprises when nothing he anticipates comes to pass.

It’s the 27th edition of “Plays by Young Writers,” showcasing the best of the more than 300 plays submitted by writers younger than 19. And for the first time, this year’s offerings include a section of plays called “Lifestages Reflections,” by playwrights 55 and older.

The young playwrights section brings two staged readings, directed by Katie Rodda: Kira Nolan’s “The Eccentric Flight Of A Fly” and “From Underdog To Top Rhino” by Matthew Maceda and Eric Pak.

In addition, two plays receive full productions: Nachi Baru’s “American Idyll” and Caleb Roitz’s “Hallowed.”

“The Eccentric Flight Of A Fly”

You know that disgusting feeling you get when you open your mouth and the next thing you know there’s a fly in it? Kira Nolan, a 7th grader at The Bishop’s School, posits a world in which flies plot to control human brains this way.

Country flies Flitting Shadow (James Gomez), Sly Wings (Philip John) and Butterbuzz (Isaac Resca-Baesel) long to form a city gang and – who knows? – take over the world, or at least a few human brains. They don’t ask much – some soda, a little horse manure, maybe a little respect.

Meanwhile, the very human Emily (Taylor Wycoff) gets her hair caught in the blender and mom (Cindy Lewis, who also plays a philosophical dog) flutters around trying to get her extricated.

The structure’s a bit scattershot, but Nolan has a good feel for the absurd, and “Fly” is both eccentric and fun to watch.

“From Underdog To Top Rhino”

Kermit the frog told us it’s not easy being green, and playwrights Matthew Maceda (12) and Eric Pak (11) show us that being a red rhino in a sea of blue ones might be even worse.

There’s an elite rhino squad that Ben (Isaac Resca-Baesel) longs to join. The only thing that stops him is, well, that inconvenient red color. The other rhinos just laugh at him, most particularly squad leader Arnold (Philip John).

But Ben has the advantage of a big brother named Bruce (James Gomez), who goes to bat for him, and an unexpected event gives Ben a chance to demonstrate his own special gift.

Mesa Verde Middle Schoolers Maceda and Pak both amuse and get their point across in this fanciful effort.

“American Idyll”

In playwright Nachi Baru’s world, books of fantasy and science fiction are banned and replaced by books put out by the Fiction Bureau. (It’s blamed on the rotting of the brain caused by reality TV.) The Bureau’s slogans are “Only that which exists is true” and “Truth is the ultimate virtue.”

Chelsea Whitmore directs “American Idyll,” in which fleets of peons like Kris (J. Tyler Jones) and Myra (Rachael VanWormer) spend their days at computer screens formatting Bureau-approved e-books.

One day Kris, already called on the carpet by boss Leon (Antonio TJ Johnson) for being three minutes late for work (“Punctuality is all about precision,” says Leon, “and precision is what it’s all about here at the Fiction Bureau”), rummages through the attic of landlady Mrs. White (Kathi Copeland) and finds a
book without the official seal – one about knights in armor and flying dragons.

“Didn’t come from the bureau,” he muses. “Must be over 30 years old.”

What will he do with this unapproved book? Dare he show it to older brother Jackson (Justin Lang) – or anyone?

This cautionary tale is blocked and choreographed to remind one of a regimented world similar to those depicted in the dystopian classics “1984” and “Fahrenheit 451.”

That’s heady company for 15-year-old Baru, a student at Canyon Crest Academy, who shows great promise and a good feel for dialogue in this piece.

“Hallowed”

An Old Man (Jim Chovick), who would probably describe himself as in God’s waiting room, goes to a favorite fishing spot expecting nothing more than a pleasant outing, maybe a bite or two (or perhaps to get that celestial call), when he looks around and realizes a Boy (Lane Palhegyi) is there.

Not just there, but asking an impertinent question: “How old are you?”

“I’m too old to live and too young to die,” says the Man, but the all-too-honest Boy responds, “You don’t look too young to die.”

Caleb Roitz, a Scripps Ranch High School grad now studying acting at California Institute of the Arts, offers a meditation on life and death, relationships and God – those “hallowed” things in life.

Along with the Boy, the Old Man will meet a young couple in the middle of an argument about something. The Young Man (Adam Daniel) stomps off in a huff. The Old Man’s ensuing conversation with the Young Lady (Charlene Koepf) raises the possibility that these characters aren’t strangers but people known extremely well to the Old Man.

One new acquaintance does arrive – another old man named Mike (Antonio TJ Johnson), who assesses their mutual situation in these words: “You’re sick with time, same as me.”

“Hallowed” has humor and a certain melancholy charm but needs a bit more depth. It benefits from fine acting – and it’s a special pleasure to see Chovick and Johnson onstage together.

The details

“Plays by Young Writers” play through April 29 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, Downtown.

Tuesday and Thursday at 10 am; Friday at 7:30 pm; 2 p.m. Saturday at 2 pm. Alternates with “Lifestages Reflections”: Wednesday and Friday at 10 am; Saturday at 7:30 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call 619-544-1000 or visit HERE or HERE.