City Theatre sifts through hundreds of plays every year to find a handful of scripts that are just the right amount of fun and hilarity for Summer Shorts, their annual short play festival, which opened last night at the Arsht Center. The aim is to be Saturday Night Live with a pulse (only, you know, funnier). And with this, the festival's 17th Anniversary Season, they seemed to have found some gold.
Featuring nine hilarious short plays performed by an outstanding ensemble led by veteran SoFla stage actors like Todd Allen Durkin and Stephen Trovillion, this year's festival is quite possibly the best, most even production City Theatre has turned out in years.
The Man From Mars, Christopher-Demos Brown's contribution to this year's fest, is the hilarious raunchy Twilight Zone episode you've never seen. Mr. Cummings (Trovillian), is a sad sack nerd, with a bowtie, ill-fitting clothes, and an awkward disposition. But Mr. Cummings has an amazing power. He can give women (and men) intense orgasms with a mere thought. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Cummings is unable to get an orgasm himself. It's the most tragicomedy one can imagine. The story of a man with astounding mental super powers who also happens to have the worst case of blue balls in the history of mankind.
Adam Peltzman's Bedfellows, a play (loosely based on factual events) about Founding Fathers John Adams and Ben Franklin being forced to spend a night together in a New Jersey inn, is among the funniest in this year's fest. It's the Odd Couple meets the History Channel, as Adams and Franklin comically spar like an old couple over sleeping arrangements and whether to keep a window open. Durkin hilariously plays the ornery Adams, the quintessential straight man to Trovillion's Franklin, a shamelessly arrogant blowhard who keeps bragging about his numerous inventions, quoting himself and refers to his penis as "Poor Richard."
But the festival is more than just 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 brought the house down as Ruth, the typical Jewish mother nitpicking her daughter's life choices and lobbing guilt trips at her in that passive aggressive way only mothers can do.
In Joyce Turiskylie's I'll Be There, a Finalist for City Theatre National Award for Short Playwrighting last year, we see this year's festival's star performers Trovillion and Dimon again. 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 enjoyable comedic farce.
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Last year's fest featured some outstanding performances from its cast as well, but felt mostly uneven. This year City Theatre brought it strong. There wasn't a single play that felt empty or like mere filler for a festival looking to cram a bunch of performances into one night. This year's festival is an even blend of absurdity and poignancy. And the result is all uproarious, side-splitting fun.
Look for our extended review in this week's issue.
City Theatre's 17th Annual Summer Shorts runs through June 17 at the Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater (1300 Biscayne Blvd.). Tickets are $35. Call 305-949-6722 or visit arshtcenter.org.