Small plays, big production.
That, in four words, is City Theatre’s Summer Shorts Festival, a treasured annual event for theater fans who dig variety and bite-sized escapes into worlds that range from hilarious to sobering.
This year’s 18th edition of the festival launches this weekend in the Arsht Center’s Carnival Studio Theater and runs through June 30. It features a dozen short plays performed by six intrepid (and versatile) actors. Four directors have put their own interpretive touches on the plays, which are being presented as though they’re taking place in an art installation.
Summer Shorts is the main event, but that’s not all City Theatre will be doing to entertain and enlighten different groups this summer. The Lauren Gunderson-Brian Lowdermilk family musical The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful (and Her Dog), a coproduction with Orlando Repertory Theatre, will play the Carnival Studio Theater June 15-30. CityWrights, a playwrights’ conference featuring Pulitzer Prize finalist Tina Howe, happens June 19-23 at Miami’s Epic Hotel. Shorts Gone Wild, a program of gay-themed plays, will run at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage Aug. 8-Sept. 1 as a coproduction with Island City Stage. (For more information on those City Theatre programs, visit www.citytheatre.com.)
The lineup for this year’s Summer Shorts program is, as usual, eclectic. A wife asks her husband to do one very strange deed in Leslie Ayvazian’s The Favor. Kendra Blevins’ iZombie looks at just how lost we get without our devices. David Bar Katz’s Mothra vs. the Casting Agent finds the monster looking for work. A vampire shows up in Nina Mansfield’s Bite Me. Paul Rudnick’s The Gay Agenda finds an “accepting” Ohio mom ranting hilariously. Steve Yockey’s Serendipity combines mistaken identity with film noir style. And there are a half-dozen more.
Artistic director John Manzelli, who is staging the plays along with Antonio Amadeo, Margaret M. Ledford and Mcley Lafrance, says that the 12-show lineup, bisected by an intermission, is meant to echo the company’s old Program A-Program B format.
“With a longer program, you can do more varied types of pieces. We can put all the art we want out there,” he says. “This allows us to say OK, enjoy an hour, go to intermission and talk about it. Then come back and have more fun with it.”
The acting company features veterans Irene Adjan, Todd Allen Durkin and Ken Clement, plus newcomers Renata Eastlick, Rayner Garranchan and Vera Varlamov.
The vibe is a good one this year, and Adjan says that really does matter: “The whole process is difficult enough, so that chemistry is really important.”
Amadeo, who has done Summer Shorts as an actor, appreciates the colleagues he’s directing this year.
“Really good actors know how to serve the play while making incredibly interesting choices others wouldn’t think of,” he says.
“They not only make each character different, but they’re looking at each piece for everything they can get out of it,” Ledford observes.
Whether new to the company or not, each actor has his or her own interpretation of the Shorts experience.
“It’s a close as you’re going to get to an experience like Saturday Night Live in the theater. I said yes before I even knew what the plays would be,” says Clement. “What I like is the diversity.”
“This reminds me a lot of grad school, when we did 10-minute plays in a program called Midnight Special,” says Varlamov, who earned her masters degree from Rutgers University a year ago. “Theater for me is about the collaborators. Working with Irene, Todd, Ken and Margaret, with artists of that caliber, will make me a better actor.”
Eastlick, a New World School of the arts grad who just moved to New York, is back for Summer Shorts and the next GableStage show, Good People. She has done City Theatre’s family musical before, but this is her first Summer Shorts experience.
“I just think it’s fun. You have to come out of your shell, and this allows me to explore different aspects of myself, as five different people. And it needs that fast-paced energy you have in theater school,” she says.
Lafrance, who leads the Shorts 4 Kids school tour for City Theatre, is directing Eastlick and Garranchan in Sheri Wilner’s A Tall Order. He understands what short-form theater needs.
“We have to find a way to click really quick. Every short has to be dynamic,” he says.
Photo credit: George Schiavone