Plays by the Minute

Count the legendary Hardy Boys among the visitors to Summer Shorts '99, the annual festival of one-act plays produced by City Theatre. In fact include playwright Christopher Durang, too. The writer, who penned The Marriage of Bette and Boo, American theater's most scathing sendup of family values, didn't invent the boy sleuths, of course. But you might say he's reinvented them. His play The Hardy Boys and the Mystery of Where Babies Come From examines the facts of life from a strange new perspective.

Whatever quirky twist Durang gives to his heroes, he'll have to be brief. Along with the fifteen other new works (including entries by big guns William Mastrosimone and Jane Martin) that appear in Summer Shorts' two-part program, The Hardy Boys will clock in at around ten minutes. The design of the festival, says coproducer Susan Westfall, "keeps everyone entertained and amused and eager to hear the next play." The 250-seat Ring Theatre may be full of South Floridians wearing shorts, but the casually attired bunch is in for some serious theater.

As Westfall's producing partner Stephanie Norman explains, the festival not only draws audiences, it draws playwrights. "Summer Shorts is probably the largest festival of one-act plays in the country. We are devoted to short works. Writers get a main-stage production with Equity actors." And the rest of us witness the results of a unique challenge, in which subjects as diverse as rape and the love lives of insects are tackled. This year's program even features a musical about the millennium.

"The risk factor is different from what artistic directors at other theaters have to think about," Westfall says. "It's not the same as doing an entire season of only full-length plays. We can go out on a limb because it's only ten minutes." As in the past, the Shorts rep company consists of eight South Florida actors, each playing between four to seven roles, and thirteen directors culled from area theaters. Gail Garrisan returns as artistic director.

The pint-size-play-plus-picnic-dinner format has worked so well in the previous three seasons that the producers are hesitant to tweak it. One innovation, however, is the invitation extended to Durang to appear in person as part of CityDialogues, a new aspect that features readings, discussions, and master classes. The playwright, who teaches at the Juilliard School, will bring along colleagues Marsha Norman (author of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winner 'night, Mother), and Juilliard's writer-in-residence Brooke Berman, whose Dancing with the Devil is also on the Shorts program.

For those audience members whose favorite Summer Shorts activity is eating, this year's menu offers two extra nights of food. In addition to picnic dinners inserted as a break between the two programs of plays on Saturday and Sunday evenings, theatergoers can now chow down on Thursdays and Fridays. That's when caterers and restaurants, including Fishbone Grille, JADA, and Titanic Brewing Company, will offer complimentary samplings at a preshow happy hour. The idea is to get people out of their offices and into the aisles. As Stephanie Norman puts it: "We're turning a monthlong festival of theater into a festival of food."

-- Robin Dougherty

Summer Shorts '99 runs June 2 through June 27 at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, University of Miami, 1312 Miller Dr, Coral Gables. Activities take place Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. Program A is performed Thursday and Sunday at 7:30, Saturday at 5:00. Program B is performed Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 5:00. Preshow happy hour takes place at 6:30 Thursday and Friday. Picnic supper (reservations required) is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday between performances. Admission to festival readings on Wednesday is free. Tickets for weeknight performances cost $15-$50. Weekend picnics cost $35 (one program and picnic) and $50 (both programs and picnic). Call 305-284-3605.

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Robin Dougherty