‘Summer Shorts’: Homegrown Edition Review

Laughs and familiar scenes of Miami were memorable in the 2023 “Summer Shorts Homegrown Edition” of eight 10 minute plays, running now through June 25 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.

One difference the Festival has this year that differs from past “Summer Shorts” productions is the special focus on developing local Miami actors and playwrights who identify as BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color). Miami playwright Vanessa Garcia, who received positive reviews for her recent play “#Graced,” mentored eight playwrights over a period of 18 months in what  turned out to be a collection of eight plays that reflected the outlook and heritage of each of the playwrights.

“Each of the writers is telling stories that are true to them. In this way, they (the plays) are authentic. They are trying to shine a light on a story that very much belongs to them and they have not seen on stage,” said Garcia.

For the most part, the eight plays reflected different Miami ethnic groups with plays that raised concern (and laughs) about visiting Cuba, imagining a world in which marriages have to be renewed every seven years, or a world of the future as a consequence of climate change, among other topics.Playing multiple roles in the eight plays are actors Toddra Brunson, Brette-Raia Curah, Samuel Krogh, Lauren Cristina Lopez, Evelyn Perez, Chabely Ponce, Raul Ramirez and Roderick Randle.

My favorite of the eight plays was playwright Lolita Stewart-White’s “7”, featuring outstanding comic performances by black actresses Brunson, Raia Curah and Shaina Joseph. Set in the dressing room of a chapel in the Richmond Heights neighborhood of South Miami, the funny plot centers on the premise that federal law requires marriage vows to be renewed every seven years. The premise is a perfect setup of laughs that guide the story with a climax that added a memorable dramatic end to the story.

From left to right: Actors Graham Oberlink and Raul Ramirez in “I Found This On The Web” in “Summer Shorts: Hometown Edition”, running now through June 25 at Arsht Center in Miami.

Playwright Ivan R. Lopez “I Found This on The Web” is a hilarious tale of online dating that can often lead to mismatches. The story, set in a Miami restaurant, centers on the expectations of two gay men dating and the interference of the first date from a person on a smartphone to complicate matters. The hilarious lines and facial expressions by actors Ramirez, Krogh, Graham Oberlink and Evelyn Perez stand out in this story. 

“Banana Bread” by playwright Sefanja Richard Galon is set in a chain restaurant known for breakfast items (such as “Starbucks” or “Panera Bread”) and features lots of physical comedy. The story involves three people, the store manager, an aspiring employee who wishes to be promoted and a lazy employee who does the bare minimum to keep his job. When the manager has to leave the restaurant, a series of funny incidents begin to take place. The story is memorable for sight gags, such as a scene of an employee having to count the change of a five dollar item with 500 pennies, while simultaneously answering a phone and serving a customer in the pay line. The story features great comic timing by actors by Roderick and Ramirez.

“Plastic Flowers” by Luis Roberto Herrera is a comedy about people who mistake identities. The setup has two women who visit a friend in a hospital whose face is covered up with bandages and can’t be recognized. Before the punch line of “who are you” is delivered, the two women act as if they know the patient intimately. The comic timing of actresses Brunson, Perez and Daniella Valdivieso make the play memorable.

Joel Castillo’s “Balloo(n)” is intriguing due to the conflict of expectations of a newlywed couple’s vacation in Cuba. The wife, who is from Cuba, looks at the vacation as an opportunity to see her homeland again, whereas the husband sees the vacation as a tourist who wants to visit the beach and restaurants. The catalyst for the conflict is a Cuban woman who sells balloons. The husband brushes her off while his wife engages her in knowledge about Cuba. Although there are plenty of laughs from the exchanges between the Cuban woman and the husband and wife, there is a dramatic element to solving the tension between the newlyweds by the end of the story. Impressive performances by Krogh, Lopez and Perez move the story to an unusual ending.

“The Vultures” by Ariel Cipolla is a story of teen peer pressure, with three actresses playing vain, giddy middle school students who strive to be popular via the channel of social media. Actresses Curah, Lopez and Ponce give much emotional depth to their portrayal of the three teens in a story with an unusual climax.

From left to right: Actors Brette-Raia Curah and Roderick Randle in “And Other Dreams We Had” in “Summer Shorts: Hometown Edition”, running now through June 25 at Arsht Center in Miami.

Phanesia Pharel’s “And Other Dreams We Had” was Summer Short’s most dramatic ten minute play, set in a world seemingly about to be destroyed by pollution, flooding and climate changes. The characters are a married couple trapped in an attic with a baby on the way and ponder whether or not to go through with the pregnancy in a decaying world. Outstanding emotional performances by actors Curah and Randle keep the audience glued to the building tension of the story.

My least favorite short was “2201: Xibalba” by Chris Anthony Ferrer. The story, set in a mythical future, is a farce on a spaceship with creatures who are either idiotic robots or junior staff who have no idea what they are doing. Despite funny lines and facial expressions by actors Brunson, Ponce, Ramirez and Randle, none of their performances could savage such a poor story.

Videos of scenes from Miami neighborhoods with many cultural landmarks in Little Havana, Miami Gardens, Overtown, among other areas were shown at the beginning of “Summer Shorts”, intermission and in breaks between the eight plays. The cultural landmarks in the videos included the University of Miami, Little Haiti neighborhoods and the Calle Ocho festival in Little Havana.

By and large, “Summer Shorts: Homegrown Edition” is worth seeing, not just for the humor, but to immerse in the individual stories represented by many of the multicultural ethnic groups that make up Miami.

However, “Summer Shorts: Homegrown Edition” should have been tweaked to include contributions by Jewish playwrights from Miami to be a fully multicultural experience. Given the large contribution historically  by Miami’s Jewish community (many who are Jews born in America, Argentina, Canada, Columbia, Israel, Uruguay and Venezuela), it was odd not to see a Jewish actor, character or playwright be part of any of the eight plays. In the videos showcasing the multicultural neighborhoods of Miami, I was shocked to not see the familiar cultural Miami landmarks of the Holocaust Memorial, Temple Israel, (a century old synagogue), Jewish Museum of Florida, among other Jewish cultural landmarks that are part of Miami’s history. “Summer Shorts: Homegrown Edition” should have been truly an expression of multiculturalism in Miami. Without the contributions of playwrights from the Jewish community of Miami, the hometown experience is incomplete. 

“Summer Shorts: Homegrown Edition” is running now through June 25 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. in downtown Miami. Performances run from Thursday- Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets are $50-75 with student tickets at $15. 

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *