BERKELEY -- Berkeley Rep's 11th annual Teen One-Acts Festival opens March 22 with a play by Lafayette playwright Frances Maples and a swirling, knot-filled portrait of a man running from his past by Sophia Cannata-Bowman of San Francisco.

Selected by their peers, Maples and Cannata-Bowman will see their plays entirely produced, directed, designed and performed by twenty-four high school students from nine local communities.

Maples, a 17-year old senior at Acalanes High School, returns for a second straight year. This year's "Orpheum" promises to cauterize another wound on the female psyche -- specifically, the injurious "damsel in distress needs a male hero" myth.

"Even in movies where the female is the main character, she's always being saved by men," Maples complained, in an interview two weeks before opening night.

The play is based on Orpheus, the mythical Greek musician who famously attempts to rescue his wife from Hades and Persephone. In Maples' version, both damsel and hero are dames and the afterlife is a narrative tool.

"Reality isn't required," Maples said. "My last play dealt with gods and the mythos also. As an atheist, I don't believe in (the afterlife), but I like to explore why other people might."

She also likes to unravel motivational patterns across less-traveled territory.

"Yes, it's lesbian love. The media talks about the male gay community. I wanted (the main characters) to both be female to tackle an entire theme of feminism."


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Ironically, the earliest drafts were a "fluffy, rom-com" (romantic comedy) mashup. Switching to "a play with substance" during rewrites, Maples has retained the play's musical underscoring with a "tender, reflective, teen romance" soundtrack.

"It adds a sweet tone to a play about death and the Apocalypse," she said dryly.

Maples said adult directing mentor Nora Casey helped her "get outside her head" during script refinements. Berkeley High School senior and play director Ivy Olesen, 17, contributed surprising ideas for casting and transition scenes.

Still waiting to hear from top choice Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, Maples said her plans for next year are "pending." And Eve Ensler, Maples' playwriting hero from 2012, continues to represent someone whose work she admires for presenting a bold, feminist position.

"Theater is a way to promote a gradual change in society's thought process," she said. "Anything that doesn't treat women as an object for romance, anything where (a woman is) an intelligent or a strong leader, is a part of a gradually changing society."

The 11th annual Teen One-Acts Festival at Berkeley Rep's School of Theatre runs Friday, March 22 through Sunday, March 24.