The Alliance Theatre/Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition, now approaching its 20th anniversary, is a boon to fledgling playwrights.
Each year graduate students from playwriting programs across the country submit a full-length play; this year 65 plays were submitted! The winner receives a full professional production on the Alliance’s Hertz Stage, while runners-up are given staged readings by professional actors.
This year’s winner is “The Many Wondrous Realities of Jasmine Starr-Kidd” by Stephen Brown, currently a fellow in Juilliard’s Playwrights Program. Directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, the play focuses on Jasmine (Penny Schick), a 12-year-old computer genius who can hack into the AT&T mainframe and has built an AI friend named Grace. She’s even convinced the Department of Defense to send her high-powered lasers. What she can’t do is coax her separated parents (Jeremy Aggers and Dana Deveaux) to get back together again.
But she will bend the universe—literally—trying. Much of the evening’s comedy stems from Jasmine’s getting her good-natured Uncle Craig (Brandon Burditt) to enter the time machine she has created and indulge in hijinks to somehow rearrange reality. She enlists the aid of Corporal Delmar (Joe Knezevich) as well.
As Associate Producer Amanda Watkins points out, Jasmine is slowly learning the lesson that “we can’t control others’ free will, and that sometimes regret and mistakes aren’t problems to be solved…but the building blocks of who we are.”
The play is explosive; it takes off like a rocket with Jasmine, aided by Grace (her AI friend, voiced by Sydney Terry) determined to have her way. And since since she can think faster and talk faster than anyone around her, she is both a funny and formidable force. Ms. Schick is a wonder, her energy and power drive the whole show.
But she is aided by a flawless cast, especially her kind and loving father (Mr. Aggers) and her very patient and long-suffering uncle (Mr. Burditt). Kendra, Jasmine’s mother (Ms. Deveaux), is a calming, soothing presence one would like to see more of. The same can be said about Mr. Knezevich, one of Atlanta’s finest actors.
Scenic and production designer Caite Hevner may be the real star of the evening; you simply will not believe his large monitor (out of which Grace speaks) and his time machine; his work gives the play quite a cinematic vibe. Kudos also to lighting designer Ben Rawson and sound designer Christopher Darbassie.
Occasionally one wishes for a little slowing down, a bit more variety of pace. I thought of Jodie Foster’s film “Little Man Tate,” in which her seven-year-old son is a genius; that work had more delicacy and pathos. But then again, that was a completely different piece, lacking the rollicking humor of “Jasmine.” Incidentally, the show runs 90 minutes, no intermission.
Playwright Stephen Brown (remember his name) has been given a superb launch pad for what I’m sure will be a stellar career. The play runs through April 1. I would not miss it.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.