City Theatre and The Adrienne Arsht Center presents the 17th annual short play festival, Summer Shorts. Directed by: Margaret Ledford, Mark Swaner, and John Manzelli. Featuring: Todd Allan Durkin, Elizabeth Dimon, Irene Adjan, Katherine Wright, and Steven Trovillion
City Theatre’s annual rite of the season Summer Shorts has developed a well-earned reputation for being the dictionary definition of “uneven.” So it’s a relief that this 17th edition is the most consistently funny and entertaining in quite some time.Some of the nine playlets still are markedly more hilarious than others, some are tight little gems of farce leavened with a bit of seriousness, some still meander before solidifying at the end. One doesn’t quite work. But the year-long effort by Producing Artistic Director John Manzelli to identify promising works has paid off in a uniformly better crop of scripts this year, none of the what-were-they-thinking entries that often marred the menu of Shorts in the past.As usual, most have a racy irreverent flavor, such as the nerd who can give intense sexual pleasure with a twitch of his pelvis. All are rooted in the comic efforts of human beings trying to connect with each other, such as the widower who allows his fiancée to watch him talk to his deceased wife in the graveyard.Even when the scripts aren’t as strong as you’d hope, the directors and cast deliver them with enough punch, passion and craft that they are still diverting.
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. 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.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.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.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 frustrationns 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.