History of the Word

It's for high schoolers. If you understand that, then you may be able to enjoy Ben Snyder's new play History of the Word. Inspired by poems by urban high school students, the 60-minute piece follows a day in the life of Kayo, a smart but bitter African-American teen, and three of his schoolmates. The setting is New York City's Washington Irving High School, where the first week of performances actually took place. (The run finishes up at LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Queens.) In addition to having NYC's Hip Hop Theater Festival's veteran as scribe, Word boasts Tony Award nominee Joe Morton (Art, Stuff Happens, Raisin) as director. But what promises to be a rare glimpse into the mysterious mind of today's urban teens turns out to be as engaging as first-period geometry class.

Adult actors Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lauren Birriel, Britton Jones, and Cedric Sanders transform into a believable bunch of teenagers. Each is singularly talented -- singing a bit here, rapping a bit there. Ambudkar as a Muslim senior who is the class clown and an ROTC member is uniformly hilarious. LAByrinth Theater Company co-founder David Deblinger verges on caricature as he plays all the adults, from a wise-guy security guard to an Eastern European drama teacher. As a square history teacher, he seems poised to channel Paul Lynde and start singing "Kids" from Bye Bye Birdie.

Today's teens may be more worried about being deployed to Iraq than going steady for good, but the message here is that they are still struggling toward adulthood.. A selling point for History of the Word is that different poems by New York's high school students will be interjected into each performance. The show is suitable for a school project or after-school special, but it is not meant for a general audience. Those over age 18, anyway.

Presented by Queens Theatre in the Park and Vineyard Theatre

at Washington Irving High School (closed) and LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, 31-10 Thompson Ave., Queens, NYC.

March 3-10. Schedule varies.

(718) 482-5151 or www.lagcc.cuny.edu/lpac or www.theatermania.com.

Casting by Dave Clemmons Casting.