Kyle Abrahams had never tried to write a play before his drama teacher, John McEneny, required him to try for a middle school class in Brooklyn. Kyle had always liked acting – he recently performed in a production of “Frankenstein.” Now, though, he’d be the one giving other actors instructions.
And Kyle, 13, never imagined that the people reading his lines would be professional actors at the Clurman Theater on West 42nd Street.
But that is exactly what is going to happen. Kyle’s first play, “Death by Unicycle,” will be performed on Saturday evening, having been selected by writers from the “Late Show With David Letterman” as the funniest play in the Worldwide Plays Festival Competition. Kyle also won $2,500 in cash from Mr. Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants.
The competition was sponsored by the Writopia Lab, a New York nonprofit group that offers creative writing workshops to school-age children. The competition was open to children ages 6 to 18 from across the country. Two plays from each of three categories – elementary school, middle school and high school – were chosen to be directed and performed by professionals during a festival that began Wednesday and ends Saturday.
“Death by Unicycle” was picked as one of the two best plays from the middle-school level and as the funniest play over all, though not all plays in the contest were comedies. Mr. McEneny. the drama program director at William Alexander Middle School 51 in Park Slope, helped Kyle through the writing process and encouraged him to submit his play for the Worldwide Plays Festival.
“It was all very silly, but all handled in a surprisingly deft way, and the odd details along the way just kept it spicy and surprising,” said Steve Young, one of the contest’s judges and a writer on Mr. Letterman’s show for 23 years.
The play’s main character is Devin, a normal 13-year-old who has just transferred to Harvey H. Humphries Middle School for the Gifted and Talented, or “H to the Third,” as some of the students call it.
He struggles to make friends at the school, where the jock culture that dominates most hallways has been turned on its head. Here, the cool kids brag about their protractor collections. Devin doesn’t fit into either world. He once built a car that runs on vegetable oil for a science project, but he also watches sports.
“He’s used to the type of school that he was at, so then he goes there, and he expects it to be more of the same,” Kyle said, “but it’s just nowhere near what he thought it was.”
In one scene, Devin approaches some other boys in the hallway and tries to strike up a conversation:
Devin: Did you guys see the game last night?
Eugene: You mean the chess match between Svetlana Petrovic and Yuri Sychowitz?
Devin: No, I meant the Lakers and the Knicks.
Cornelius grabs his protractor and shoves Devin against the lockers. He puts the protractor against his throat. Cornelius is so weak that Devin pulls him gently off of him with little energy.
Cornelius: Ball games? Is that what you take us for? Really? You heathen. You are regressing. We’re so past organized sports feeding the general proletariat – fantasy war games! I am so sick of sports filling one-third of every newspaper, every newscast, and the discussions of every “World of Warcraft” chat room. Like every guy has to find it fun to watch a bunch of Neanderthal thugs in kneepads and matching costumes beat each other senseless. Oh no! Not here. When I joined H to the Third, I gave up that oppressive life. And you will, too. Join us, Devin. We’ll show you a world with so much potential.
Devin: I made a car once.
Eugene: I made a bigger car. I made a spaceship. I’ve designed fighter jets for a secret army of a developing country that will go to your house and blow it up.
In an attempt to fit in, Devin ditches his designer clothes for a nerdier look and eventually wins the approval of Eugene and Cornelius. But the friendship doesn’t last long; there is a plot twist near the end.
Kyle is already thinking of writing another play – possibly another comedy. “I feel like they’re the most fun to write,” he said. “When they do a joke right and everybody laughs, it’s just a really good feeling.”