Cappies National Theater is a program for high school students whose cast is made up of Cappies award honorees from around the country, including Fairfax County. Cappies stands for the Critics and Awards Program, which recognizes high school stage talent at every level of production. During the school year, student critics write reviews that are published in the Fairfax Extra. Here is a review of last weekend's production, "Playz!"

The hottest kids in the Washington area aren't by the pool or lounging in the sun -- they probably haven't seen the sun for quite some time. The teenagers of Cappies National Theater, an all-star gathering of Cappies winners from around the country, are too dedicated to their art to spend much time away from the theater. Their hard work pays off in three top-notch productions, the second of which, "Playz!," was performed on July 31.

"Playz!" was a collection of three one-acts, "Adaptation," "The Cards of Fate" and "This is a Test." Since Cappies National Theater features the best of high school theater, the actors were talented enough to let the challenging material shine. When performed together the shows played off each other to create a statement on the randomness of life. The games of luck and chance depicted in each show become forums through which life's ironies were presented.

The board game "Adaptation" by Elaine May was a depiction of "life." The game's player, Phil (played by David McElwee), began on square one as a newborn. Phil received "maturity points" for accomplishing tasks and "adaptation points" for fitting into society. The cool Anna Hunter played the Game Master, aloofly commanding Phil's life. McElwee's expressive use of his body and range of facial expressions allowed him to communicate the many stages of Phil's life. Jeff Kurtz was humorous as Phil's friend who joins the drama club to "get chicks" and as a snooty Hilton heir. Christine Todd and Chris Sears were endearing as Phil's liberal parents, well-meaning but misguided.

The dark "Cards of Fate," written by Chantilly High School drama teacher Ed Monk, imagined a game show where the host asks the contestant pop-culture questions while the fate of innocent victims hangs in the balance. The more questions contestant Nick (A.J. Scalfani) answered incorrectly, the worse the punishments became. In a brutal scene starring Marisa Vick, the game's consequences turned fatal. During that agonizing moment, the silence in the audience was overwhelming. Becky Christensen was a hoot as the insecure, ratings-hungry host, and her chemistry with sidekick Cinnamon (Erin McCamley) stayed true to the show's edge.

Stephen Gregg's "This is a Test" similarly alluded to the haphazard nature of life, but in a more humorous light. Alan (Jonathan Contreras), an anxious high school student, was faced with a midterm exam that his teacher nonchalantly called "Your Future." The exam became exceedingly ridiculous, with questions ridiculing Alan's personal hygiene and even an essay in Chinese. The ensemble provided humor as they blatantly cheated with large signs and Morse code. The chorus, led by Bryan Terrill, also earned laughs with their mind-numbing chanting. Contreras was excellent as Alan, realistically portraying the tics of an insecure boy in a world determined to grade him as a failure.

Mary Austin Slate

Herndon High School

The Cappies National Theater concludes Sunday and Monday with the first production of a musical called "The Yellow Wood." There will be a 2 p.m. performance Sunday at Madison High School, 2500 James Madison Dr., Vienna, and 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Kennedy Center Theater Lab. For more information, visit www.cappies.com.

Chris Sears, from left, David McElwee and Christine Todd perform in "Adaptation," one of three one-act ruminations on life performed by the Cappies National Theater troupe.