By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
City Theatre's Summer Shorts was maybe the biggest thing to hit South Florida theater in 2007. It became enshrined as one of the two major short-play festivals in the nation when it partnered with Louisville's famed Actors' Theatre and moved from its old home at the Ring Theatre to the much larger Studio Theater at the Arsht Center.
In the middle of all that, City Theatre brought together the brightest talents from regional theater; put on a bunch of short, disparate plays; and crammed them into a single night with no hiccups. Last year's Summer Shorts featured 17 plays stretched across two programs that could be seen separately or together.
And so Summer Shorts didn't really need to extend itself. If the folks at City Theatre had rolled out a production exactly like last summer's, nobody would have called them lazy. But here they are with four new programs slated to run in rep at the Arsht.
"We felt that the program was getting a little R-rated," says executive director Stephanie Norman. "I loved the pieces, but I wouldn't have taken my kids to see them." This year, City Theatre decided to stick all the offensive bits into one late-night program, called Undershorts, slated to open in Summer Shorts' third week.
Not that they bleached all the blue notes from the standard Shorts programs (now a pair called Signature Shorts). One of the shows is about an openly gay sheep; another is about a middle-age man discovering French erotica. "I don't know how it happened," says Norman, "but it still wound up kind of R-rated."
Not quite as much as Undershorts, though, which is so depraved even the press release is filthy. The plot of Justin Cooper's Wood: "A depressed ventriloquist waits by the bedside as a woman has sex with his puppet. There's no double entendre here. She's having sex with a wooden dummy because that's the only thing that gets her off."
The plays are all in this vein. Craig Pospisil's Guns Don't Kill shows what happens when a fourth-grade teacher brings a loaded 9mm to class. In Rolin Jones's Chronicle Simpkins Will Cut Your Ass, a murderous sixth-grade tetherball virtuoso dominates the playground at all costs. Savannah Reich's Time of Changes contains a Sixties educational film about puberty that devolves as the actors explore each other's bodies. And so it goes: seven plays, each more immoral than the last. Perhaps accounting for Arsht Center patrons' strong sense of propriety, producers are encouraging as much preshow drinking as possible. There is even talk of a bar in the theater itself so punters can get a midshow refill without missing anything.
Owing to a logistical quirk, the Undershorts cast will feature the same actors in a new Shorts 4 Kids program. "It's going to be a fantastic mindfuck," says actress Ceci Fernandez.
In addition to Fernandez, who is usually found doing shows at Mad Cat, Undershorts will star Andy Quiroga (we loved him in Red Tide); Erin Joy Schmidt (who lately has delved into the dark underbelly of local theater, first with the heartbreaking Some Girls, then with the surrealistic nightmare of 4.48 Psychosis, and now this); Sally Bondi (fresh from The Women's Theatre Project); and David Hemphill (whom we haven't seen lately). Stuart Meltzer, who helped spearhead the Undershorts concept, is one of four directors.
Undershorts will run at 10 or 11 p.m., depending on the night — 10 hours after the cast gets done with the 4 Kids set and only an hour after the other cast finishes up Signature Shorts. It's an amazing turnaround, especially when you consider what a ghastly headache of a production Signature is: Together the programs involve 17 plays, 17 costume changes, and 17 sets jammed into three hours.
If City Theatre can pull it off, they can do anything. Imagine the program for next year: There might be Short Stacks: Plays About Pancakes, or maybe Winter Shorts: Plays About the Southern Hemisphere. If they're feeling ambitious, they might try Short Sell: Plays About 1929, or Long Shorts: Plays About Capris. Given enough talent (which City Theatre has) and success (which it'll probably have), anything could happen.