If you like classic television game shows, then you’ll love “Shorts Gone Wild 5,” the LGBTQ-themed short play festival running through Sept. 10.
Each year, the festival’s co-producers, Island City Stage in Wilton Manors and Miami’s City Theatre, have introduced a clever gimmick to mix up each performance by allowing the audience to select the order.
For the fifth installment, that vehicle is a crazy take on “Concentration,” the popular ‘50s and ‘60s game show that forces competitors to match photographic tiles from memory. So much for luck, this is going to require some skill, too, if everyone is going to make it through all eight 10-minute plays in just two acts.
Interspersed between each play, the themes from memorable shows like “Match Game,” “The Price is Right,” “Jeopardy” and “The Newlywed Game” provide a touch of nostalgia as Ardean Landhuis’ retro-inspired set pulses to flashing lights.
At times, “Shorts Gone Wild 5” is more like “Let’s Make a Deal.” For every curtain that is drawn to reveal a snazzy sports car or exciting vacation, there is also likely to be an unexpected “zonk” lurking elsewhere.
Several of the plays are funny, touching and particularly insightful:
“Give Me Space” by Spenser Davis imagines the first same-sex couple in space (Lawrence Buzzeo and Marquise Rogers) on the first manned mission to Mars. A jealous lovers’ tiff ends in an ironic twist.
“Valkyrie in the Roller Derby” by Seamus Sullivan pits an immortal Nordic warrior (Sabrina Gore) in the battle of love with a butch roller derby dyke (Rita Jae) and Odin just may or may not approve.
Michael McKeever’s “Carly’s Last Call” is a surprisingly melancholy experience that would make M. Night Shyamalan proud as a lesbian (Rita Joe) must come to terms with the unexpected loss of a dear friend.
The most powerful play is a one-man work by Korde Tuttle, “Clarity,” and featuring an incredibly raw and moving performance by Rogers. His soliloquy is crammed with touchy material—racism and tolerance, African-American culture, same-sex marriage—more than enough for three plays really, and Rogers’ delivery is certain to cause some audience members to squirm in their seats.
Other plays are like that “Price is Right” showcase that doesn’t include the new car: Michael Leeds’s “So a Rabbi, a Priest and a Minister Walk into a Bar” and Kris Thompson’s “The Adventures of Gay Man – Birth of a Hero” are clever, but seem like extended “Saturday Night Live” skits. Cassandra Rose’s “Persona” is that lesbian coming out story that we all have seen before. Nicely told, but not quite the “wild” night of edgy theater promised.
And then there’s the play that was behind curtain number three (ZONK!): Steve Yockey’s “Déjà Vu.” Honestly, I still don’t have any idea quite what that play was about. Maybe a sort of absurdist take on “Groundhog Day,” but don’t count on it. Luckily, it came up early and everyone—cast and audience alike—was able to move forward quickly.
“Shorts Gone Wild 5” offered the most even cast to date. In addition to Rodgers, extra kudos go to comedic actress Christina Groom, Island City Stage veteran Buzzeo and high energy “Shorts” virgin Jordan Armstrong. Joe continues to charm and Gore is a stalwart, tackling several difficult roles with ease.
Unfortunately, the entire game show shtick adds at least a good 20 minutes to the evening and gets old by the second act. Most audience members didn’t seem to mind, but it might be interesting to see how the plays might work in a more “curated” order. That would be a real winner, but for now “Shorts Gone Wild 5” still takes the prize.
“Shorts Gone Wild 5” will be presented through Sept. 10 at the Abyss Theatre, 2304 N. Dixie Highway in Wilton Manors. Tickets are $35 at IslandCityStage.org.