If the last 24 years of City Theatre’s Summer Shorts have been anywhere near as excellent as this year’s 25th anniversary edition, then the South Florida theatre community certainly has a lot to celebrate. This year’s program offered a roster of ten short pieces, three of which were world premiere works submitted to the company’s national short playwriting contest, four greatest hits returning from previous Summer Shorts iterations, one commissioned piece, and two other new pieces by well known playwrights.
All ten plays featured the same ensemble of eight talented actors, arranged in various combinations: Alex Alvarez, Lindsey Corey, Stephon Duncan, Diana Garle, Jovon Jacobs, Daniel Llaca, Margot Moreland, and Tom Wahl. And all eight showed tremendous range as they embodied a wide variety of eclectic characters in an equally wide variety of situations, ranging from thrilling to terrifying to even life-threatening.
For instance, the proceedings certainly got off to a high-stakes start with A Small Breach In Protocol At Big Rick’s Rockin’ Skydive Academy by Daniel Hirsch, which creatively allows us a window into its characters inner thoughts while they are plummeting towards the ground at warp speed. After the shortest of the short plays, A Little Bit Of Culture by Staci Swedeen, added a bit of whimsy to the proceedings, we were treated to a performance of Amy Berryman’s Winner.
Stephon Duncan and Tom Wahl in Winner (Photo by Justin Namon)
This play focuses on a tense interaction that takes place between a young up and coming Black female writer who was just named the titular winner of a prestigious playwriting award and a more established older white male writer who has some questionable ideas about why such an upset may have taken place. The script and actors (Duncan and Wahl) did a great job of creating a believable relationship and interactions between the two and making both characters likable despite the tense subject matter of their conversation, and the play’s social commentary was made both sharper and funnier by the meta implications of the discussion of the theatre world.
Then, there was David Lindsey Abaire’s Misdial, a perfectly formulated situation comedy delivered with excellent timing centering around a series of infuriating mix-ups that take place after a woman dials the wrong number, while attempting to contact her optometrist. And closing out Act 1 was 21 Chump Street, a fourteen minute musical by the acclaimed Lin Manuel Miranda that retold the true story of a high school drug bust that takes a terrible turn for one lovestruck student.
Jovon Jacobs, Lindsey Corey, Daniel Llaca, Stephon Duncan, and Alex Alvarez in 21-Chump Street (Photo by Justin Namon)
Though the core issues explored here are serious ones, the story was packaged in such a fun-filled way thanks to its witty score that the play was both among the most engaging and most affecting pieces of the program. Though the two leads of this piece seemed to struggle a bit vocally with the more demanding sections, their acting was on-point as usual, and the ensemble as a whole excelled at infusing their characters and Sandra Portal-Andreu’s choreography with plenty of energy and personality.
Faring a little less well was the Act 2 opener, Dominique Morisseau’s Night Vision. Part of this may simply have been because drama is inherently somewhat harder to pull off in the context of a short play—while a ten minute comedy can get by on a kooky concept and couple of zingers, it can be more difficult to get us to care about and connect with characters without the time to fully flesh them out or develop their journey. The writing of the piece also came off as a bit heavy-handed as opposed to even other topical pieces on the program, and though the piece’s two actors (Duncan and Jacobs) did a fine job individually while grappling with the play’s difficult situation, they didn’t seem to have much chemistry as a couple, which also undercut the play’s emotional impact.
Stephon Duncan and Jovon Jacobs in Night Vision by Dominique Morriseau (Photo by Justin Namon)
But the energy and the laughs were back full-force with Webster’s Bitch by Jacqueline Bircher, which ingeniously invites us to consider the power men’s words can have to define women through the device of a viral scandal involving the workforce of the titular definitive dictionary. Then, there was Tango: The Musical, a world premiere musical adaptation of a short straight play originally performed by City Theatre in 2013. A book by Susan Westfall only seems to have been improved by the addition of a few musical interludes written by Joe Illick that gave Moreland a chance to showcase some pretty impressive belting skills as a set-in-their-ways couple are inspired to rediscover their passion for one another by transformative tangos with seductive waitstaff.
Margot Moreland and Alex Alvarez in Tango, The Musical (Photo by Justin Namon)
The penultimate piece, Go Get ‘Em Tiger by Steve Yockey, explored a day at the zoo gone wrong after a man’s thirst to prove himself to his dissatisfied wife sends him straight into a tiger enclosure. Though this in itself is probably a juicy enough premise to fill ten minutes, the relatively down to earth comedy elevated itself to the realm of the hilariously absurd when Jacobs arrived for a star turn as the inexplicably accented tiger, who wants the chance to weigh in on the incident and the central couple’s marital woes.
Jovon Jacobs in Chronicles Simpkins Will Cut Your Ass by Rolin Jones (Photo by Justin Namon)