The heated presidential campaign provided timely inspiration for “Shorts Gone Wild 4,” the annual festival of LGBT-themed short plays presented each August by Miami’s City Theatre and Island City Stage in Wilton Manors.
Subtitled “Decision 2016: It’s Gonna be Yuuuuuge!,” the latest version featured eight new 10-minute plays by seven playwrights and performed by a cast of six and staged by five local directors.
And, like the daily public opinion polls about the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns, results are mixed. The only clear losers were Log Cabin Republicans who became the common butt of the jokes in many of the plays.
As in previous years, the audience played a role in deciding the order of the performances, this time using the convoluted rules of the various state party primaries and caucuses. Jokes about superdelegates abounded as the audience’s popular vote was overturned or, as in the closed primaries, only a small percentage were allowed to select the next play. Fortunately, chairs didn’t fly.
Among the clear winners was “Jenny & Simone” by Christopher Demos Brown. An encounter between two blushing bridesmaids (Christina Groom and Gladys Ramirez) after a Baptist wedding proved that politics can indeed come between two seeming soulmates who agree on virtually everything else but their preferred presidential candidate.
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“Be the Change” by Susan Westfall also features a married couple (Noah Levine and Christina Groom) who harbor dispolar political views. When their favorite restaurant on Wilton Drive, Carabba’s, is transformed into a flamboyant gay club, they must confront their prejudices and embrace modern realities.
Similarly, Michael McKeever’s “Things My Grandfather Taught Me,” finds two gay and lesbian couples enjoying dinner together. Unfortunately, opposing political views by the respective partners hilariously come between the friendship of Robbie (Dominic Smith) and his lesbian “wife,” Meredith (Rita Joe).
Larry Buzzeo took a fine solo turn in McKeever’s “Dear GOP,” a “Dear John” letter from a nominal gay Republican who can no longer intellectualize his ties to a party that refuses to accept his marriage.
As sometimes happens with short plays — and the failure of a certain candidate to explain away her email controversy — others stumbled over themselves to make a point and still land a few laughs.
“Bernie Singles Dot Com” by Jessica Farr raced out of the gate, a staged infomercial for a dating service catering to the disaffected supporters of the failed Democratic Socialist candidate. Plenty of jokes abounded, drawing laughs from the decidedly non-Millennial audience, but towards the end, Farr’s premise sputtered and failed to seal the deal, just like Bernie.
Michael Aman, who wrote the critically-acclaimed drama, “Feeding the Bear,” totally overthinks North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law, only to wrap up the meandering discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in said bathroom with a quick punchline.
And, another couple (Noah Levine and Dominic Smith) find themselves in marriage counseling in “Lips Like Crocus” by Stuart Meltzer. It turns out that Levine’s Seth has a sexual fetish with lesbian MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. The play is silly fun, yes, but seemed like filler in comparison to other plays in the lineup.
Speaking of filler, in previous years the play selection skit provided flow and continuity between disparate plays. But, with a unified theme, the “primaries” seemed to hinder the pace of the evening, especially since the line-up was more or less preordained. Clocking in at two hours and 10 minutes (with a 15-minute intermission), nearly 20 minutes of “Shorts Gone Wild” in total was spent clearing the stage, introducing the next play and then resetting the stage in nearly the same configuration.
Despite a very few shortfalls, “Shorts Gone Wild” is certainly a welcome distraction from the barrage of political ads that will be filling the airwaves over the next few weeks as the state primaries approach.
Island City Stage and City Theatre present “Shorts Gone Wild 4” through Aug. 28 at The Abyss Theater, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.