Here’s a recipe for a tasty night of theater: Take seven talented local playwrights, mix them in with a quirky cast of six actors, season with some LGBT themes and allow five award-winning directors to perfectly cook the concoction.
Wilton Manors-based Island City Stage and Miami’s City Theatre are once again serving up “Shorts Gone Wild,” a short play festival at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage, and the results are simply delicious.
The show kicks off with Michael Leeds’ hilarious “The Emperor is Naked,” a twist on the Hans Christian Andersen, the short sets up the evening, as well as some running jokes that connect the other seven short plays, including ones about marital tensions between real-life husband and wife, Nikki Fridh and Matt Stabile. Meanwhile, the statuesque, muscular Craig Moody must continually conceal his private parts as props and costumes are shuffled about a la Austin Powers.
Again, the show borrows a gimmick from last year, allowing the audience to select the order of the plays, and fortunately, the first was Michael McKeever’s “Lion in a Bear Bar.” This hilarious romp is like getting served dessert as the first course. Set a few years after Dorothy’s departure from Oz, Larry Buzzeo star as the Cowardly Lion who is having some boyfriend problems and confronts his boyfriend, Stabile, in a bear bar.
Other plays include Fielding Edlow’s “A Bump Between Friends” (Gail S. Garrison, director), starring Renee Elizabeth Turner as a narcissistic woman who reacts jealously when Fridh announces she is pregnant after a one-night stand with the child of Turner’s old boyfriend. The play is very funny, but like a soufflé that crashes at the last minute, lacking a solid punch line.
Tony Finstrom’s contribution, “The Last Time I Saw Bathhouse Betty” (Gail S. Garrison, director), is also entertaining, sharing the experiences of a fictitious group of people who gather at the Olympic Baths in the early 1970s for a performance by Bette Midler. Again, laughs abound with references to Barry Manilow, “Let My People Come” composer Earl Wilson, Jr. (who happened to be in town for a production of his show last weekend) and the other gliterrati of the era.
“Game On,” by Gary Garrison (Andy Rogow, director) involves a heart-to-heart examination of the qualities that define and attract gay men after a first date gone bad. Buzzeo portrays a flamboyant gay man while Stabile is seeking someone on Grindr who is a little more “straight acting.” The play has lots of heart, but substitute AOL or Manhunt for Grindr and we’ve heard this story many times before.
More savory fare includes McKeever’s second contribution, “Sarah Stein Sends a Selfie,” (Margaret Ledford, director) with Fridh as Sarah, a bride who accidentally sexts a drunken selfie to her maid of honor’s mother after her bachelorette party. Turns out that the message was intended for her friend, portrayed by Gladys Ramirez, and that the two may have a little more history than others believed. Sarah is faced with a tough decision when the big day finally arrives.
Carey Crim’s “Glamping” (Teddy Harrell, director) sends Moody and Ramirez to a destination wedding, a camping trip. The only problem is the bride and Ramirez used to be lovers. The short explores the conflicts bisexual’s face when dealing with complicated and conflicting emotions and attraction.
Unfortunately, Christopher Demos-Brown’s “I Alone” (Andy Rogow, director) is the only play that just doesn’t work. Demos-Brown’s writing is smart and heartfelt, a rich soufflé. The short is set at a high school reunion, and is a dialogue between two friends, one of whom is not who he was in school. It takes several minutes—a lifetime for a short play—for the audience to realize “I Alone” is written as dialogues between both the current friends and their “former” selves. It would be a worthwhile effort to explore some other staging ideas to save what became a collapsed soufflé.
If you also eat with your eyes, then credit goes to Peter A. Lovello and Michael McClain for their clever color-coded costumes and props, another throwback to last year’s production, but a critical ingredient in this banquet, nonetheless.
“Shorts Gone Wild 2” runs through Sept. 7 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr. in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $30 at IslandCityStage.org.