The bite-sized comedies, dramas and monologues that City Theatre serves up during its annual Summer Shorts Festival can also be hilarious, edgy, enlightening, devastating. At its best, the festival provides potent theater in concentrated form.
In the 15 years since producer Stephanie Norman, playwright Susan Westfall and actor Elena Wohl sat around a kitchen table to cook up what has become a much-loved part of South Florida’s theater landscape, Summer Shorts (despite the occasional head-scratching oddity) has repeatedly validated its founders’ belief in the power of short-form theater. The company has given life to countless short plays, helped launch the career of hot young playwright-TV writer Marco Ramirez and forged a significant partnership with Actors’ Theatre of Louisville and its annual Ten-Minute Play contest.
Bowing this weekend in the Carnival Studio Theater at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts (then moving to Broward for a three-day run at the start of July), the festival includes everything from absurdist comedy and shattering drama to the adults-only undershorts. The kids’ part of the festival, which doesn’t begin until June 17, is a special 15th anniversary treat: the full-length, world-premiere musical Camp Kappawanna, with music and lyrics by singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb and a script by the award-winning Ramirez.
First, though, come the eight plays in this year’s Signature Shorts, seven in undershorts.
Norman and Westfall, now the company’s literary director, combed through some 1,200 scripts to choose this year’s crop. In the mix are a sensual piece about a young, damaged veteran reconnecting with his determined wife; a farcical take on every woman’s nightmare, the gynecological exam; separate solo pieces voiced by a man and a woman dealing with the aftermath of tragedy, and a riotous play about a dysfunctional family whose patriarch insists he wrote The Night Before Christmas, Clement Moore be damned.
On the Signature bill are Jay Rehak’s The End of a Perfect Game, a 15th anniversary revival of Rich Orloff’s Matterhorn, founder Westfall’s play Look at Me, Gregory Hischak’s Poor Shem, Dan Dietz’s Lobster Boy, John Olive’s Iddle Minglish, Bridget Carpenter’s Euxious and Christopher Durang’s Not a Creature Was Stirring.
The naughty bits in undershorts consist of Michael Ekyanow’s Banging Ann Coulter, Bekah Brunstetter’s Daddy Took My Debt Away, Susan Cinoman’s Beds, Laura Eason’s It Was Fun While It Lasted, Joshua James’ The Pap and F**k You and Rolin Jones’ Extremely.
This year’s acting company includes newcomers Scott Genn and Breeza Zeller, along with Shorts vets Mena, Schmidt, Elena Maria Garcia, David Hemphill, Laura Turnbull and fest-fan favorite Stephen Trovillion, aka “Mr. Summer Shorts.” James Samuel Randolph, who has acted and directed in seven previous festivals, observes, “These are some of the strongest character actors you’ll see in our area.”
Directors Gail Garrisan and John Manzelli are each staging shows and making sure the festival comes together artistically. Actor-director Avi Hoffman, Marjorie O’Neill-Butler, Barry Steinman, Hugh Murphy and Randolph are also staging the plays. The fest’s award-winning design team includes Sean McClelland (set), Steve Shapiro (sound), Estela Vrancovich (costumes), Sevim Abaza (lighting) and Jodi Dellaventura (props).
The festival, says Murphy, is “a lot like Iron Chef. You have top-of-the-line ingredients, great scripts, tremendous actors, unbelievable assistance and incredible time constraints. When you’re finished, you walk out and hope that what you have is a souffle of deliciousness.”