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Theater Review: “Plays by Young Writers”

Four playwrights see their works given full productions, while the two youngest winners get staged readings of their works.

A strange warehouse where you can take something you want, but you must leave something of equal value; a satire on gentrification and bias in the tech industry; the horrors of a refused “promposal” and a farce about formerly incarcerated friends who reunite as they re-enter society are the themes of four of this year’s winning Plays by Young Writers.

Playwrights Project (founded by Deborah Salzer) has mentored, supported, and encouraged budding young playwrights in California for more than three decades. 

Every year, a statewide competition results in a show showcasing six winners.

Four playwrights see their works given full productions, while the two youngest winners get staged readings of their works.

This year’s winners are on view at through Jan. 29 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park.

I saw the four fully staged winners the other night. My favorite is Cassandra Hsiao’s “Supermarket of Lost,” where we meet Austin (Roberto Castillo) and the much-younger Violet (Olivia Wiese), who happen to be there at the same time.

Violet wants Austin’s headphones, but he doesn’t want to give them up, leading to a chase around the store.

Meanwhile, Hailee (Gabrielle Korte) comes in, not to find anything but to leave stuff. All three will have their lives changed by this encounter.

This is a whimsical, charming and thought-provoking piece by 16-year-old Orange County resident Hsiao.

It’s not surprising that her plays have been produced across the country. George Yé directs.

In “Hackathon,” playwright Eliana Dunn (from San Francisco) gives us Kristie (Michelle Trester), a stitch as one of those annoyingly familiar game-show type hosts, who is looking for the winning high school team to create an app “that “will change the world.”

It comes down to Atticus (Olivia Wiese) and Elliot (Dylan Nalbanian), the expected winners from the lily-white school (with all the advantages) vs. Julian (Roberto Castillo) and Jorgina (Kelly Nichole), the duo from Thurgood Marshall High (who have to beg laptops to use, and barely seem to know what an app is). 

Kristie mentors the expected winners, while the Marshall team is assigned mentor Allen (Brandon Kelley), famous founder of the DateorDitch dating app. Julian and Jorgina know they are not just the underdogs, but the fall guys here, and they’d settle for getting Allen’s signature on a paper that proves they showed up, but Allen has other ideas.

“Hackathon” amuses while it targets one of society’s major problems.  George Yé directs.  

Matthew Maceda’s “The Dumping Ground” tackles that most embarrassing high school event, the “promposal” that is rejected right out there in public.

Poor Mark (Wilfred Paloma) has a case on Jackie (Ciara Ceniceros), who has other prom ideas.

Mark gets sympathy from galpal Sandy (Sofia Sassone) and teachers Mrs. Collins (Julia Giolzetti) and Mr. Nickolson (Tom Steward), but it’s not sympathy he wants. With this play, Rancho Peñasquitos native Maceda marks his fifth appearance in the Young Playwrights festival. Wendy Maples directs. 

Katie Taylor’s “Pros and Cons” is a fast-moving farce about a bunch of ex-cons who get together and decide to toss a birthday party for one of their number.

It’s a clever idea, but I must confess that it left this old lady in the dark, what with its six characters (played by Jake Rosko, Sofia Sassone, Bernardo Mazon, Tom Steward, Julia Giolzetti and Wilfred Paloma) running in and out and a plot that seems almost incidental to the rushing about.

Phil Johnson directs with great speed but I must admit to wondering what that was all about.

Playwrights Project is one of my favorite local groups. I always love seeing these plays. And each year I am convinced again that American theater is in good hands.

The details

“Plays by Young Writers” plays through January 29, 2017 at the Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park.

Program A: Jan. 24, 25, 27 at 10 am; Jan. 28, 7:30 pm; Jan. 29, 2 pm

Program B: Jan. 26, 10 am; Jan. 27, 7:30 pm; Jan. 28, 2 pm (Note: The 10 a.m. shows are available to media only.)

Tickets: (858) 384-2970 or playwrightsproject.org