City Theatre's 16th annual Summer Shorts kicked off this weekend at the Arsht Center as Phil Collins's "In The Air Tonight" spilled from the loudspeakers. The actors were introduced by Miami Heat P.A. man Michael Baiamonte as if he was introducing LeBron, Dwyane, Bosh, and the boys.
Headliner Jai Rodriguez then warmed up the crowd with a funny little ditty called I Don't Speak Spanish, in which he confesses that, while his name is Rodriguez and he may appear Hispanic, he was finding it difficult to communicate to the locals that he doesn't speak a lick of Spanish. The wry comical tune seemed to set the tone for an overall enjoyable evening of theater. What followed was seven short plays, some hit, some miss, but all engaging in their own way.
As it is with most short plays, the stories presented in this year's Summer Shorts are character driven. And, as it is with all short plays, they go only so far as the actors can take them.
Fortunately for City Theatre, the cast assembled for this year's festival is pretty exceptional. Rodriguez proves that he's not just a one-hit wonder, juggling serious and comedic characters with crisp and earnest performances while the plays also featured outstanding performances from Shorts veteran Stephen Trovillion, Carbonell winner Gregg Weiner, as well as magnificent turns from Ceci Fernandez and Finnerty Stevens.
With an uncomplicated set piece of tropical designs and wooden scaffolding as its backdrop, the festival moved from one play to the next with quick and simple set changes. Things kicked off with the poignant Aboard the Guy V. Molinari, a simple story about how fate intervenes in the lives of two lost and lonely souls aboard a ship off the New York harbor.
Mickey Herman Saves the $#$@ World, with its '80s cheeseball sci-fi flair and Flash Gordon costumes, is a fun little comedy where Rodriguez is comically miscast as Ronnie Fiasco, a jean-jacketed, big-haired heavy metal guitarist who narrates Mickey's harrowing adventures against invading space aliens.
Dos Corazones, about two brand-new mothers who find common ground despite their language and culture barriers, is a stirring play with heart-rending and comically touching performances from Ms. Fernandez and Ms. Stevens.
In Quiet Please!, Rodriguez's delivered a subtle and vulnerable performance in a story about two strangers briefly passing by each other's lives in a doctor's waiting room.
The second half of the evening proved to be its strongest.
If there's one play to see at this year's festival, it's the Southeastern premier of Israel Horovitz's potent What Strong Fences Make. Weiner and Rodriguez portray two old friends from opposite sides who run into each other at an Israeli border crossing. Fences proved to be a biting and thought provoking take on Middle East tensions with a powerful climax, filled with deft dialog and layered with emotionally charged commentary.
Changing gears in a big way after such an explosive short, the absurdly funny Hate the Loser Inside absolutely brought the house down with a riotous performance from Stephen Trovillion. Trovillion stole the show with his slapstick portrayal of a championship winning college head football coach who becomes absolutely unhinged as he tries to get through a commercial shoot advertising home kitchen furnishings. Meanwhile Gregg Weiner added to the laughs as the understated straight man that tries to direct the coach during the commercial shoot.
The show's finale, Chronicles Simpkins Will Cut Your Ass, was the perfect way to close out the fest with an outrageous and hilarious performance from Rodriguez as a fourth grade girl with sass and attitude.
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Fast paced, charming, and captivating as well as hilarious and witty, this year's Summer Shorts has something for everyone and makes for a fun summer night at the theater.
City Theatre's Summer Shorts fest runs through June 26 at the Arsht Center Carnival Studio (1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami) Tickets cost $45. Visit arshtcenter.org or call 305-949-