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Young playwrights hit the mark at Pegasus festival

Celeste M. Cooper (from left)  Daniel Rosenstrauch JJ McCormick Carl Herzog “Fears for Fairytales” written by Clare McKitterick Lane

Celeste M. Cooper (from left) , Daniel Rosenstrauch, JJ McCormick and Carl Herzog in “Fears for Fairytales” written by Clare McKitterick of Lane Tech College Prep for the Pegasus Young Playwrights Festival. | PHOTO BY ANDRE WALKER

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When: Through Jan. 31

Where: Pegasus at National Pastime/Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence

Tickets : $15-$25

Info: (773) 878-8864;

Run time: 1 hour and 40 minutes, with one intermission

Updated: February 9, 2014 6:26AM

Fairy tales, whether by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen or L. Frank Baum, have been a rich source of material for a slew of variations by subsequent artists. But you really have to hand it to Clare McKitterick, a student at Lane Tech College Prep, whose “Fears for Fairytales” is one of the three prize-winning plays in the Chicago Young Playwrights Festival. The program, now in its 27th season selects the one-acts of three Chicago area high school students for professional productions and awards of $500 each.

McKitterick has deftly updated the fates of a cross-section of familiar characters by subjecting them to group therapy, and the result is a hoot. The sessions are overseen by Glinda (Susan Myburgh as the forceful Good Witch from “The Wizard of Oz”). Her familiar “patients,” each deeply disturbed by events in their past, include: Pinocchio (Daniel Rosenstrauch as the ex-puppet who wants to remain a boy by only telling the truth, no matter how painful to others); Snow White (Celeste M. Cooper, as the girl whose terror of poisoned apples leads her to bad behavior); Captain Hook (JJ McCormick, as the pirate with an enduring hatred of children), and the Big Bad Wolf (Carl Herzog as the beast with a surprising alibi).

Director Lavina Jadhwani and her lively cast (whimsically costumed by Sharlet Webb) keep the neuroses and antics amusing. And you leave wondering whether McKitterick might be considering a career in psychotherapy as well as writing.

In “Senioritis,” a play by Alexus Williams of Whitney Young Magnet High School, Maya (Cooper), a smart but hugely self-involved, Kardashian-worshipping 17-year-old, learns to think outside the consumerist, all-about-me box of her life. She initially resents being forced to visit the senior citizens’ home where her grandpa (McCormick) is a resident, along with such other elderly yet feisty souls as Black (Herzog) and Lori (Joy Valdez-Pappas). But Williams shows us how Maya gradually comes around to seeing the value of their lives. And under the direction of Rachel Edwards Harvith, the actors (on a cane, a walker and in a wheelchair) winningly tap the humor, pathos, truth and zest for life of the oldsters.

The darkest and in some ways deepest play of the three is “The Diner,” the work of Lauren Trifunovich of Lincoln Park High School, neatly directed by Ilesa Duncan. Set in rural Illinois, it is something of a latter-day version of Robert Sherwood’s classic 1930s thriller, “The Petrified Forest.”

At the play’s center is Betty (intriguing work by Myburgh), a 23-year-old single mother about to lock up the roadside cafe where she works as a waitress. As a storm rages outside, the good-hearted woman opens the door for a stranger, John (an ideally volatile Herzog), and offers him temporary shelter. Let’s just say that no good deed goes unpunished, and the play’s ending is ideally chaotic and winningly unresolved.


Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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