A Passel of Playlets

The mysteries of motherhood lie at the core of the festival's most affecting presentation, Richard Hellesen's touching Dos Corazones, which is deftly directed by Kent Lantaff. In performances usually achieved only after a two-hour buildup, Gwynn and Moreland spellbind as maternity-ward roommates who overcome a language barrier through the common fears and hopes they feel for their babies. Although my Spanish amounts to nada, Moreland's impassioned performance as the Hispanic mother who believes new life is a miracle enabled me to follow every word, just as Gwynn's pained movements and intense portrayal of the Anglo's postnatal depression led me (once again) to question the joys of childbirth. Dos Corazones provides each actress with the chance to play a three-dimensional character, and both seize the opportunity. So do Norman and O'Neill-Butler with their revealing performances in My Secretary, Henry in his portrayal of the confused swimmer in Four One-Hundredths, and Wahl in his complex depiction of the tortured brother in Passing Through.

Despite serious competition from her gifted castmates, Gwynn emerges as the festival's star, confirming the old adage that there are no small roles, only small actors. Making the most with whatever is handed her, the recent University of Miami graduate breathes life into each role through an electrifying combination of stage presence and piercing dramatic choices.

Cast in one-premise plays with only a few moments to establish character, the actors are often called upon to quickly telegraph stereotypes. No one does this better than Bill Hindman; within seconds he's a prissy grocery manager, thieving bum, henpecked farmer, drunken gambler, rule-bound janitor, and unappetizing cook. But even his skills can't save Summer Shorts's two flops: David Kranes's Making Action, a muddled character study examining a gambler and his card dealer, and Charles Aye's predictable Blackie, a real dog about a man's love for his pet.

The various designers manage to create an inventive, appropriate environment for each play, but none more so than scenic designer Michael Thomas Essad, whose set works like a colorful pop-up book, with hidden parts that fold down and slide out to join projected slides and rolling set pieces. For instance, his pop-up cartoonish clock -- it really works -- whimsically underscores the frenetic pace of Chris Widney's library scavenger hunt in the smart One of the Great Ones.

Although Essad's set is more unified than is either program, a cohesive dramatic flow is a lot to ask, given the various styles of the many playwrights, directors, and cast members. Likewise, it's hard to choose the merits of one program over the other: Program B contains the best sketch and the majority of the better dramas, while program A counters with lots of laughs and the not-to-be-missed Dos Corazones.

Why choose? Put on your cut-offs and plan to enjoy the picnic lunch available to those seeing both programs in a single afternoon or evening. Summer Shorts '97 will be gone in a few weeks. It's not often you see shorts with such strong legs.

Summer Shorts '97
With David Bugher, Nell Gwynn, Steven Henry, Bill Hindman, Margot Moreland, Stephanie Norman, Marjorie O'Neill-Butler, Harriet Oser, Leila Piedrafita, and Tom Wahl. Through July 13. For more information call 284-3355 or see "Calendar Listings.

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