Summer Shorts: Sex, Presidents, and More Sex
Mr. Cummings has an amazing power, but he also has the worst case of blue balls in the history of mankind. He stands in the middle of a singles bar filled with women. He's awkward, squat, and clammy. His kinetic, nervous eyes dart back and forth behind large black-rimmed spectacles. His polka-dot bow tie hangs haphazardly from a collar buttoned too tightly for his oversize balding head.
He approaches one woman and then another. All ignore him. He seems just another sad, sweaty dork in a mustard-colored blazer and pastel pants. Yet every lady is left with a profound, life-altering moment, something none of them has experienced sitting at a bar.
Thanks to Cummings, they all have intense orgasms.
The Man From Mars is perhaps the most deliciously odd play in this year's City Theatre's Summer Shorts, the annual short-play festival running through June 17 at the Adrienne Arsht Center. It's the Twilight Zone episode you've never seen. The tragedy for Cummings, however, is he can't reach orgasm himself. "They come and they go," he laments.
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Every year, City Theatre sifts through hundreds of plays to find a handful of fun and compelling scripts. Christopher Demos-Brown, one of nine outstanding playwrights whose works are featured in the 17th edition of Summer Shorts, wrote it for last year's 24 Hour Theatre Project, Naked Stage's annual fundraising event. "The playwrights involved in 24 Hour had to pull titles from a hat at dusk and write a short play by dawn," he says. "Based on the title I drew — The Man from Mars — I wrote a story of a man who can give people orgasms telepathically but is unable to have an orgasm himself."
Demos-Brown's ability to conceive and pen a humorous play in mere hours is just one example of the astounding show of playwriting talent that City Theatre was able to tap into for this year's festival.
Adam Peltzman's Bedfellows, a production about Founding Fathers John Adams and Benjamin Franklin forced to spend a night together in a New Jersey inn, is among the festival's funniest. It's The Odd Couple meets the History Channel, for Adams and Franklin comically spar over sleeping arrangements and whether to keep a window open. Todd Allen Durkin riotously depicts the ornery Adams, the quintessential straight man to Stephen Trovillion's Franklin, a shamelessly arrogant blowhard who brags about his numerous inventions, quotes himself, and calls his penis "Poor Richard."
But the festival is more than raunchy jokes and wacky scenarios. In Lojo Simon's Moscow, a play that delves into the familial themes of mothers and daughters, ritual, and letting go, we get funny and poignant. Elizabeth Dimon brings the house down as Ruth, the typical Jewish mother nitpicking her daughter's life choices and lobbing guilt trips in that passive-aggressive way only mothers can do.
In Joyce Turiskylie's I'll Be There, a finalist for the City Theatre National Award for Short Playwriting, we again see the festival's star performers Trovillion and Dimon. Trovillion portrays Brian, a sort of full-time stalker who creepily shadows Dimon's Gwen weeks after the pair went on a date. The play takes an inventive turn on the absurdity of its characters' lives, and the result is pure comedic farce.
Green Dot Day, by Carey Crim, stars Durkin as hapless husband David, who walks into his home only to be attacked by his lingerie-clad wife, Emily, played by the perky and hilarious Irene Adjan. Emily has timed and charted everything perfectly for the two to conceive a child. David barely has time to relax before she's serving him a wine glass filled with a thick green smelly concoction she calls a "semen smoother." Green Dot Day has a sitcom feel the other plays don't, and a particularly sharp joke about Emily's mother-in-law received the longest and loudest laugh from the audience on the night I attended.
Durkin really shines in the closing play, Reality Show, in which he portrays a man who figures out the essential formula to every reality television show that has ever aired, and enacts them all live. The part is perfect for the bombastic Durkin, who performs some embarrassing and even gross tricks to full humorous effect in what is essentially comedic experimental theater. He really digs his teeth into the role.
Unlike past Summer Shorts editions, which sometimes felt clunky, this year's festival has smooth transitions between plays, with stagehands made up of City Theatre interns quickly taking down and setting up scenes as music segues from one production to another. The scenic designs by April Soroko keep the atmosphere festive, with a white-screen backdrop lit in different colors and moods according to each play's respective scenery.
The fest is not without flaws. Some of the lighting was a bit off during a couple of the plays (particularly in Moscow and The Man From Mars). This could be easily corrected by better stage blocking from the actors so that one character is not standing in the shade while the other is awash in bright light. It's a little distracting. Still, the three directors who helm Summer Shorts — John Manzelli, Mark Swaner, and Margaret Ledford — keep each play running tightly, with rich, sharp, and witty performances from a fantastic cast.
Summer Shorts has always aimed to be Saturday Night Live with a pulse (only, you know, funnier). And it would seem that City Theatre has found some gold this year with a tremendous cast and talented playwrights such as Demos-Brown. "For me, the hardest part of writing a short play is accepting that the audience's expectations are much different than with a full-length production," he says. "I think, generally, they just want a good laugh that is something more than a cheap stand-up gag."
There isn't a single play among the nine that feels empty or like mere filler for a festival looking to cram a bunch of performances into one night. This year's Summer Shorts is an even blend of absurdity and poignancy, tenderness and vulgarity. And the result is uproarious, sidesplitting fun.
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