New Short Plays Help Audiences Cope with the Holidays

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Noah Levine, left, and Michael Gioia are two ensemble members in “Mixed Nuts,” a collection of holiday-themed short plays at The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale. Submitted photo.

For years, City Theatre of Miami and Island City Stage in Wilton Manors have offered theatergoers “Summer Shorts” and “Shorts Gone Wild,” annual festivals of short plays. Last weekend, The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale opened its own holiday-themed collection of shorts, “Mixed Nuts,” featuring nine new works, all from local playwrights.

Directed by Nicole Stodard, founding executive director of the downtown performing arts space and producing artistic director of Thinking Cap Theatre Co., the production features an ensemble cast of experienced local actors, including Carey Hart, Michael Gioia, Noah Levine and Gretchen Porro.

Among the most successful comedies, “Looking for Seasonal Work” by Marj O’Neil Butler takes place at a job interview for a department store Santa’s elf. Porro portrays a libidinous Mrs. Claus who not-so-subtly attempts to seduce candidate Noah Levine while taking measurements for his elf costume. While the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission might not be laughing, the audience was in stitches over her over-the-top “Mrs. Robinson” portrayal.

Gioia, with his silver hair and beard, found himself cast as Santa in several shorts, the best being Greg Waters’ smart “Dear Santa,” which imagines the real-life encounter as a department store elf that inspired writer David Sedaris’ biographical one-man play, “The Santaland Diaries.”

Porro channels “Saturday Night Live” icon Gilda Radner’s memorable Judy Miller character in Leah Roth Bersant’s “Is Christmas a Commercial Holiday? An Oral Report by Susi Kirkland.” A second grader, Susi delivers a wide-eyed analysis of the effects of the holiday on her family and friends, all of whom essentially prostitute their moral convictions to the commercialism of the season, putting the “ho” in holidays.

“Sugar Plums” by Michael Yawney envisions the backstage explosion after the recent promotion from the corps du ballet, portrayed by Levine, drops the prima donna Sugar Plum Fairy, Hart, in a performance of “The Nutcracker.” The classic case of schadenfreude is exacerbated because there is a celebrity in the audience, but it’s not who you think.

Later in the show, Porro again shines, this time with Hart in “Baby Break” by Jessica Farr. The duo is two disenchanted—make that completely jaded—angels catching a smoke and a swig in between scenes during a local Christmas pageant. Singing hosannas is the last thing on their minds as they reflect on their relationship and circumstances in life.

Gioia’s own contribution to the program, “Magic Wand,” is a surprisingly melancholy play about the conversation between a recently unemployed father and his adult daughter. While most of the plays offer a cynical, if lighthearted, interpretation of holiday sentiments, Gioia’s play was jarring in that context and thought-provoking.

Alyiece Moretto’s two-dimensional, candy-colored set, dominated with large, Christmas-light outlined trees and gaudy packages provides an appropriate backdrop for the diverse plays, while Stodard’s flexible costumes allow the actors to morph quickly from one character to another throughout the evening.

If all the pageantry and parties of the holiday season leave you stressed, “Mixed Nuts” will provide a welcome respite.

“Mixed Nuts” will be performed through Dec. 11 at The Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Ave. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $35 at VanguardArts.org.


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