Clare Rock's insightful play "Troubles," which opens tonight at the Kennedy Center, is a classic midlife-crisis comedy, with some bizarre twists, but perhaps the most striking feature of the Millennium Stage performance is that the playwright is only 9 years old.
"Troubles" is one of six plays chosen from works by D.C. youngsters by Washington's Young Playwrights' Theater, to be performed by professional actors in the educational organization's ninth annual Youth or Dare Tour. That series of performances this month visited schools, community centers and other venues, culminating with tonight's event.
All six plays, directed by professional directors from some of the area's leading theaters, were produced for the public last Thursday at the Carnegie Institution in Northwest in a gala performance with remarks by the organization's officers and a few comments from the playwrights after the two-hour show.
Because of time constraints at the Millennium Stage, only three of the plays will be performed tonight, including "Troubles," with its quirky story about a middle-aged marriage, directed with comic flair by Kathryn Chase Bryer of Imagination Stage.
Poppy (Anthony Gallagher), a man of 45 years or older, is apprehensive about his new marriage to Eliza (Mildred Langford), with good reason: He's been married 32 times before, and at the heart of his relationship troubles is his teddy bear, Cuddles (Jefferson A. Russell), with which no woman can compete.
Gallagher, seen recently in Studio Theatre's "The Russian National Postal Service," is properly eccentric as the romantically inept Poppy, and Langford, a veteran of Young Playwrights' Theater, is a comically frustrated foil to her character's new husband. Of course, Russell, who has performed at the Shakespeare Theatre, gets the laughs with his animated turn as the talking bear.
"Troubles" may be a 9-year-old's perspective on adult relationships, but the Francis Scott Key Elementary School student's portrayal of married life should strike a chord with anyone who has had to compete in a relationship with another person, a cat or perhaps even a stuffed animal for affection from a lover.
In a more serious vein on tonight's bill is "Internal Bleeding," by Melvin Siliezar, 21, written when he was a student at Bell Multicultural High School.
Directed by Abel Lopez of the GALA Hispanic Theatre, Siliezar's play is a tense, slice-of-life snapshot of a desperate family. Jesus (Ricardo Frederick Evans), an inner-city high school student, strives to do well in his classes, but an abusive father (Russell) stands in his way. Eventually, Jesus begins to mimic the father's alcohol-driven behavior.
Last week's performance concluded with a zany comedy, "Hatman and Skullcap," by 13-year-old Rahman Turner, a Hine Junior High School student. A comic-book burlesque directed by Gregg Henry of the Kennedy Center, the play drew nonstop laughter from an audience of about 200 people, as superheroes Hatman (Russell) and Skullcap (Brandon White) let professional jealousy interfere with their slapstick pursuit of mobster Glover (Evans) and his masked band, the Fingers.
Also on the tour is "Clara's Scarf," a charming fable with Dickensian overtones, by Julia Kott, 8, of the Fillmore Arts Center. Tara Garwood, a seasoned local theater actress and choreographer, hams it up appropriately as the obstreperous Clara, who learns a lesson about compassion.
"Don't Go Down There," written by Paris Scott, 13, when she was a student at Hine, is another crowd-pleasing comedy, about two fun-loving girls (Evie Abat and Langford) who disobey their mother (Dionne Audain) with surprising consequences.
And "Secret Love and Unpopular Culture," by native Ethiopian Rahima Woshe, 19, of Bell, is a modern-day take on the old star-crossed-lovers theme.
Young Playwrights' Theater, which includes The Washington Post among its institutional sponsors, was founded by its artistic director, Karen Zacarias, a playwright, whose works have had premieres at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the Theater of the First Amendment.
At the end of last week's gala, each playwright was presented 100 one-dollar bills as a royalty payment, and Zacarias added lightheartedly, "as a professional playwright, please cherish this."
The Young Playwrights' Theater performance is at 6 p.m. today at the Millennium Stage in the Grand Foyer of the Kennedy Center. Admission is free and tickets are not required. For information, call 202-467-4600.