In "Upstream Toward Lethe," a young playwright and youthful cast face the problems of aging. George Moran's play, a part of the American College Theater Festival playwriting program, was presented at the Eisenhower last night by the UCLA department of theater arts.

In his compassionate imaginings of those confined to a fairly inelegant nursing home, Moran isolates incidents and situations which have the power of sincerity and truth. A drawback is a quality of the second-hand life viewed from a distance.

The story centers on a violinist confined to the Twilight Time Retirement Community and his grandson, who also wants a life in music. The generation between, the old man's daughter and son-in-law, sniffs at the lad's dream.

Striving for a mood of aimlessness and forgetfulness in such a place, Moran provides such subsidiary characters as two old sisters, a self-disciplined black, a Jew and a retired schoolteacher. More suite to film, the spisodic style would benefit from a greater variety of characters of less cardboard nature. The concepts of the teacher and a motionless man are arresting.

As the old violinist, Steve Nevil provides a capable character study and Nancy Parsons makes a striking figure of the teacher who cannot forget. "What," she asks, "makes possible roses in December and snowflakes in July?" And answers: "Memory." The play will be repeated this afternoon and evening.

Albert Rodriguez, a senior at the University of New Mexico, and Lynne Topping, a graduate student at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, won the top $2,000 scholarships in Sunday evening's Irene Ryan "Evening of scenes," a feature of the Kennedy Center's American College Theater Festival.

Rodriguez scored in his well-contrasted scenes from Sam Shepard's "Chicago" and Edward Albee's "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe." Topping, who includes dance among her talents, won for her scenes from Ionesco's "Jack" and Robert Patrick's "Mennedy's Children."

Votes in one-two-three order for the 13 contestants, who already had won $500 regional scholarships in Ryan's name, were cast by 12 judges from production, agency and critic circles. Also scoring strongly was Susan Reilly, of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, who chose scenes from "The Belle of Amberst" and "Private Lives."

Making the awards were two winners of the past two years' voting by ACTF members for their most admired TV performer, Cloris Leachman, of "Phyllis," and Paul Michael Glaser, of "Starsky and Hutch." Both stars brought a sense of occasion to the evening, calling attention to their own problems in starting careers.

Glaser, who endured some years of disappointments, seemed to speak from the soul when he spoke on "making it." Whether or not fame and fortune come, Glaser summarized, "you've already made it, come to terms with it in making your choices now. Whatever happens, you're still you."

The Young Columbians, in a series of musical show excerpts, rounded out the bill under the direction of Toby Orenstein of the Columbia School of Theatrical Arts.