In its early years, City Theatre’s Summer Shorts Festival was part art, part party: a cascade of short plays separated into two programs, with an on-site picnic dinner and drinks for those who like their festivals, well, festive.
Now in its 17th year, Summer Shorts has taken on more modest dimensions, though the pleasures of its short comedies and dramas remain plentiful. This year’s lineup is a single program of nine plays, exclusively playing in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.(Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center gets its own exclusive June 21-24 with Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays .) Just five hard-working actors do the artful heavy lifting, and under the guidance of directors Margaret Ledford, Mark Swaner and John Manzelli, all showcase their versatility.
Irene Adjan starts things off hoofing her way through Israel Horovitz’s The Audition Play, justifiably wondering why her potential director (Todd Allen Durkin) is so fixated on her accent when, in fact, she’s trying out for a non-speaking, non-Equity chorus job that is also non-paying.
Then Durkin reappears as a bewigged John Adams in Adam Peltzman’s Bedfellows. Inspired by a real night in 1776 when Adams and Benjamin Franklin were forced to share a room and a bed in a crowded New Jersey inn, Bedfellows becomes the comedic study of squabbling opposites. The fussy, proper Adams is constantly annoyed by the inventive, free-spirited, self-admiring Franklin (Stephen Trovillion). Those founding-father bedfellows are strange – but very, very funny.
Lojo Simon’s Moscow pairs Katherine Wright as Jen, a feminist academic and fairly new mom, with Elizabeth Dimon as Ruth, her kvetching Jewish mother from Florida. The two have climbed hilly Idaho terrain for a made-up, baby-connected ritual that Jen hopes will become a special bond, though Ruth remains focused on just how far Idaho is from Florida. Moscow is minor and a little silly, but there’s a tenderness at its core.
Christopher Demos-Brown’s The Man from Mars is an out-there comedy about a nerdy guy (Trovillion) whose special gift is the ability to bestow instant sexual pleasure on anyone through a funny little gesture. Written for the most recent 24-Hour Theatre Project, the play seemed hilarious there; at the Arsht, not so much.
The Britneys brings together three gals in a book club, one of those “literary” gatherings in which gossip and alcohol always seem to win out over meaningful analysis of that month’s selection. Dimon shines in this one as a micromanaging emotional wreck.
Arguably the sweetest play is Gregory Bonsignore’s 3, a piece about a widower (Trovillion) who brings the new woman in his life (Adjan) to one of his regular visits to his late wife’s grave site. The guy is still deeply connected to the woman he loved, connected in a way that might make most women give up. But it quickly becomes clear that he’s lucky to have found someone as understanding as his girlfriend.
Joyce Turiskylie’s I’ll Be There pairs a successful, well-prepared stalker (Trovillion) and a woman with whom he had a single date (Dimon). It’s an odd comedy made artful through the innocence and openness the actors bring to their roles.
In Carey Crim’s Green Dot Day, a wife (Adjan) and husband (Durkin) with fertility issues wrangle on a good baby-making day. Both actors are terrific, funny and angst-ridden, as they communicate the frustrations and hopes of a loving couple wanting to become parents.
The festival wraps up with Reality Play, directed and written by Swaner, in which Durkin reels off some of the key conventions of reality TV (physical humiliation, booze, eating bad stuff, emotional humiliation, inappropriate fits of anger, a makeover) and proceeds to act out each one, with an assist from Wright. Mostly because Durkin is such a no-holds-barred actor, the play works, though occasionally in a stomach-turning way.
The good news about Summer Shorts 2012 is that there’s not a true dud in the bunch. And though the “festival” vibe isn’t terribly evident, the art is just fine.