City Theatre Shows Their Shorts
Summer Shorts, City Theatre’s annual festival of short plays, has become a rite of passage here in South Florida, the kick-off to the summer season. The company has changed things up in recent years, dividing their plays into two programs, Signature Shorts, which are supposed to be more mainstream plays, and Undershorts, a slate of edgier fare.It’s short attention span theatre, so if you don’t like a play, there will be another one along in a few minutes. This year especially, that’s a very good thing. While the acting talent in this edition of Summer Shorts remains stellar—Elena Maria Garcia, Scott Genn, David Hemphill, Chaz Mena, Erin Joy Schmidt, Laura Turnbull, Stephen Trovillion, Breeza Zeller—the writing is not always up to par. Word is that these 15 plays were chosen from more than a thousand submissions, so does the problem lie with the level of writing or the folks that chose the plays?
The answer to that question is up for debate. But what we do know is that the Summer Shorts cast gives their all and turn even overwritten plays, such as Susan Westfall’s Look at Me, or nonsensical plays such as Iddle Minglish by John Olive or Poor Shem by Gregory Hischak, into something watchable.
The main thing that’s off in this year’s festival is that there is less of an ensemble feel to Summer Shorts. With two monologue plays in Signature Shorts, the actors seem underused. There is also less of that frenetic energy that has been such an important element of Summer Shorts’ success.
If there’s a theme to Signature Shorts, it’s crisis. Existential crises, marital crisis, a crisis of guilt,—it’s all in Signature Shorts. Undershorts features more varied plays, with no real thread between them.
“Signature Shorts “ winners include The End of a Perfect Game by Jay Rehak, about a pitcher going through an existential crisis that could cost him a perfect game and a world series win. Stephen Trovillion and Elena Maria Garcia are real and funny in Matterhorn by Rich Orloff, a festival revival about a couple examining their marriage while waiting in line at Disneyland. Lobster Boy by Dan Dietz, a monologue about a teacher recounting a childhood tragedy, takes a while to get into, but features a heart-breaking performance by Stephen Trovillion. Another monologue play, Euxious by Bridget Carpenter, features a terrific performance by Laura Turnbull as a busy exec who has a life-altering experience with her cell phone. Not a Creature Was Stirring by Christopher Durang is a silly bit of fluff about a tyrant dad and his frightened family on Christmas Eve.
“Undershorts” fares much better. Banging Ann Coulter is silly but hysterical, and it’s about exactly what the title promises. Beds by Susan Cinoman is a witty take on infidelity. The Pap is a laugh-out-loud piece about a woman’s appointment with a young gynecologist on his first day at work. Extremely by Rolin Jones is an imaginative piece about two dudes who’ll try anything for a thrill, broken bones be damned. One of the best plays in either program, Daddy Took My Debt Away, features a pitch-perfect performance by newcomer Breeza Zeller, about a debt collector and a young woman who calls in to discuss payment. It’s a funny and poignant play that doesn’t belong in the Undershorts category. The same could be said of It Was Fun While It Lasted… by Laura Eason, about a political comedy that would have bolstered the “Signature Shorts program. Another play, F**k You! By Joshua James, is funny but basically a rant.
While each of the eight actors have their moment in the spotlight, there are some stand-out performances. Summer Shorts newbie Scott Genn gets to sink his teeth into some varied roles, and shows he’s adept at both comedy and drama. Summer Shorts vet Elena Maria Garcia, who won a Carbonell Award for her performances in last year’s fest, once again proves she’s one of the best comediennes around. And David Hemphill morphs seamlessly into terrified child, a diplomatic catcher, a klutzy gyno and a death-defying dude.
Fifteen plays are presented, eight in Signature Shorts and seven in Undershorts. Both programs have their head-scratcher, what-were-they-thinking moments, but overall Undershorts is the better program, so if you can only see one program in the festival, go with Undershorts.
Summer Shorts runs through June 27 at the Sdrienne Arsht Center in Miami and then June 1-3 at the University School at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. For a complete schedule and to purchase tickets, visit CityTheatre.com.