Theatergoing is generally an expensive hobby, but not this week. If you play your cards right, you can see 18 plays for $102. That's 16 short plays at City Theatre's Summer Shorts festival (for $92, including dinner, or see them separately for $37 apiece) and two one-acts at the new Pinecrest Repertory Theatre ($10 and no grub).
Although Summer Shorts is quantitatively and qualitatively the better deal, the opening of Pinecrest Rep is arguably a more exciting development. Tweaked just right, the big amphitheater at Pinecrest Gardens that Pinecrest Rep calls home (known as Parrot Jungle until 2002) could become the coolest live theater venue in Miami.
It isn't yet, only because Pinecrest Rep runs its shows in the late afternoon/early evening, when (1) the light is at its least dramatic, (2) the mosquitoes are out in force, and (3) several large nearby animals begin cawing for their supper (or whatever it is they're cawing for), often drowning out the unamplified actors. But Pinecrest Gardens is a beautiful park, and there's something to be said for watching theater surrounded by greenery and the smell of native flora. If the company could get some amplification and a lighting rig and hold its shows at night — and if it gave the punters a healthy spritz of Off before they entered the amphitheater — Pinecrest Rep would be a monster.
Summer Shorts|Pinecrest Repertory Theatre Company
27 Wagons Full of Cotton and The Golden Fleece: Through June 15. Pinecrest Repertory Theatre Company, Pinecrest Gardens, 11000 Red Rd., Pinecrest; 305-720-0811, www.pinecrestrep.org. Summer Shorts: Through June 22. Studio Theater at the Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722, www.citytheatre.com.
Even as-is, the company's two one-acts — Tennessee Williams's 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and A. R. Gurney's The Golden Fleece — are worth seeing. Edge Theatre's Jim Tommaney guest-directs the former, and although I've said before that Tommaney is a director with too broad a stroke, maybe he has simply been waiting for a decent cast. Or maybe he needs a venue this large to be appreciated.
27 Wagons follows a night, a morning, and another night on the front porch of the Meighan family, the husband of which (Paul Homza) has recently burned down his neighbor's cotton gin to pick up the profits when said neighbor, Silva (Daniel Lugo), needs a place to, you know, gin his cotton. It's a shrewd bit of business, but Mrs. Meighan (Ambar Aranaga) is guileless to the point of dumbness. In a weak moment, she lets it slip that her husband was responsible for the blaze, and Silva proceeds to do terrible, terrible things to her.
The moral seems to be that men build their worlds on (stupid) women's bleeding backs, which is a pretty heavy thing to contemplate in 98 percent humidity. Still, it's difficult to argue with quality.
And ditto regarding the Gurney piece, even though Gurney isn't flattered by side-by-side comparisons with Tennessee Williams. The Golden Fleece is an almost real-time presentation of a husband and wife (Chris Perez and Laura Alvarado) trying to present their old friends, Jason and Medea, to some kind of audience. Jason and Medea fail to show, because Jason is shacking up with a big-boobied blond and Medea is busy freaking out and killing her kids. It's a long, comic meditation on the differences between men and women and the mysterious thing that binds them together (the "golden fleece," fleeces being either wooly garments or con jobs).
It's a tribute to America's current crop of playwrights that almost all of the 18 plays in City Theatre's Signature Shorts programs are as engaging as the Gurney and Williams joints at Pinecrest (lighting, A/C, and marquee talent don't hurt). Signature Shorts works like this: Program A has seven shows, Program B has eight, and you can watch them separately or pay a reduced price to catch both (though you can do the latter only Saturdays).
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Last year, I stupidly tried reviewing every single Signature Shorts play, but fuck that. There's not enough room on the page. This year, rest assured both programs contain lots of good things and there are only two clunkers between them. And even those are enjoyable. Rats — an awkward comedy with a rather dull dramatic/political twist — is set in a reptile store, and its proprietor sports an awesome mullet. Tongue Tied is about two crazy people in the waiting room of a psychiatrist's office. They have sock puppets on their hands, and those puppets will not shut up. This is a neat idea, but the execution is sloppy — only hil-fucking-arious performances from Paul Tei (who has one Asian and one British puppet; the latter sounds like Ringo Starr) and Elena Garcia keep the thing on the rails.
Indeed the actors are probably the best thing about this year's Summer Shorts. This has nothing to do with any shortcomings in the bulk of the plays. It's just that Tei, Garcia, Stephen Trovillion, Kim Ostrenko, Antonio Amadeo, Terry Hardcastle, Nick Duckhardt, and especially Laura Turnbull are giving some of the most committed, vibrant performances in recent South Florida theatrical memory.
I have never been bowled over by Turnbull — I almost always think she looks like she is, you know, acting — but not here. In Jody's Mother, she plays a mom in a confessional, explaining to a priest that her son Jody was recently featured prowling for boys on How to Catch a Predator. There are no words to describe the depth of feeling and terrible resignation in her portrait; maybe the reason Tongue Tied didn't go over so well is because it was stuck after this monstrous little piece, which does not prime its audience for laughs. Turnbull later plays 19th-century actress Laura Keene in Laura Keene Goes On, from beloved local Michael McKeever. Keene is distressed that President Lincoln has shown up for her show and seems to be stealing some of her thunder. She is doubly displeased when the prez is subsequently shot, upstaging her further.
Program B doesn't contain any jaw-dropping tragedy along the lines of Jody's Mother. Aside from a little domestic tragedy by David Mamet (Home) and a mysterious drama about dissolved friendships (Fragment of a Paper Airplane, by Carlos Murillo), Program B keeps it light. Stephen Trovillion plays a gay sheep, telling us about his coming out, his days of sexual libertinism, and his scandalous miscegenation (his partner is a black sheep), and he looks like he's having the time of his life. Twice — in Fragment and in On Story — Paul Tei delivers monologues in that crazy way of his, leaving you listening as much for the rhythm as for what weird and wrong thing will next come out of his mouth. Both Fragment and On Story are so strong you'd do well to pay all $92 for just the two of them. Anything more is a bonus.