There's a long-held idea, fabricated by an optimistic adult, that the stories we tell teenagers should be optimistic, aspirational. Maybe that's why, when it comes to picking books for curriculums, we ban the ones that even sniff of hardship, violence or reality. But if you give a group of teenagers the chance to tell their story, to explain their reality, you end up with a book like S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and you end up with a play like The (out)Siders Project, onstage at the Latino Cultural Center through Saturday as Cry Havoc Theater Company's inaugural production.
Hinton's 1967 coming-of-age novel explores teenage violence in the context of two rival groups or gangs. It wrestles with insecurities, socioeconomic inequity and what happens when life spins out of your control. For The (out)Siders Project, playwright Shelby Allison Hibbs borrows Hinton's plot, but weaves in stories gathered from the actual cast — students at local high schools including Skyline High School and Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. What manifests onstage is an honest, compelling look at the methods teenagers use to band into groups, to form identities.
If the play slogs along for the first ten minutes or so, it might be the fault of an oversized stage or an inept sound system, both of which fail to render the nuance or the urgency you can feel the young actors attempting to deliver in their lines. This play is important to them. These stories belong to them — one of the characters might be their older brother or their cousin. Where the work shines is in the choreography by Dean Wray, who creates poetic movement to represent the major fight, which centers around a basketball game.
Even in its weaker spots, The (out)Siders Project carries bits of theatrical magic, because it brings an ever-relevant story to stage that might be far easier to ignore. Life as a teenager in Dallas, or any city, is rough.
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See The (out)Siders Project at 7 p.m. Friday or 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $6 for students and $11 for adults. More at cryhavoctheater.org.