South Florida staple “Summer Shorts” is back in action for this year with an exciting collection of brand new short plays brought to us by the participants in Homegrown, a new playwright development program from City Theatre that provides a cohort of Miami’s emerging BIPOC playwrights with creative and networking opportunities over a two year period.
And though I found the shorts on display less polished that those of the Shorts’ pristine twenty-fifth anniversary best of showcase (the only other edition I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing thus far), they not only succeeded at representing the city’s unique vibrancy and diversity but at provoking both laughs and contemplation from an eager crowd. This was enabled in part by a talented tech team that takes full advantage of the venue’s capacity.
In particular, scenic, properties and projection design by Jodi Dellaventura and Natalie Taveras and costume design by Maria Pareja succeed in giving each playlet a distinct vibe as they take place in environments as different from one another as a teenage girl’s living room and outer space. A team of actors also gives each a laudable commitment despite some evidence that some of their scripts remained in flux til it was nearly opening night!
Shaina Joseph, Toddra Brunson and Brette-Raia Curah in ‘7’ by Lolita Stewart-White (Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography)
And the first play in the line-up—playwright Ivan R. Lopez’s meet-cute rom-com I Found This On The Web—was also one of the most wholeheartedly enjoyable and well-crafted of the bunch. Raul Ramírez is Marcos, an adorkable everyman whom we meet readying himself for a first date with Samuel Krogh’s handsome Jake. However, their budding courtship is sabotaged by the persistent intervention of Marcos’ I-watch Siri (voiced with aplomb by Evelyn Perez) who disapproves of the match.
“I spoke to Alexa!” she memorably describes when tipping Marcos off to his date’s narcissistic tendencies, one of the piece’s many riotously witty lines.
Next on the agenda was Lolita Stewart White’s 7, which offered an intriguing premise that honestly might not be that bad of an idea: the idea that married couples, instead of being bound by a single round of “I do’s” that would last for life, would, to remain united in the eyes of the law, need to instead renew their vows every seven years.
Though I felt the piece was more of a promising beginning than a satisfying short play in and of itself and to some extent slid into melodrama and cliche, three talented actresses (Toddra Brunson, Brette-Raia Curah, and Shaina Joseph) brought quite a lot of life to the three sisters who find themselves in a state of transition as one among them contemplates whether or not to renew with her husband or pursue an old flame.
Samuel Krogh and Roderick Randle in ‘Banana Bread’ by Sefanja Richard Galon (Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography)
Next up was Sefanja Richard Galon’s Banana Bread, an efficiently amusing workplace comedy set in a Starbucks-esque coffee shop of the same name. As central character Tyrone, leading player Roderick Randle is essential to the play’s success as he tries to handle a morning rush of caricaturish customers (Chabely Ponce and Lauren Cristina López, while his only co-worker (Ramírez returning as Sebastian) is a bit too stoned to give much useful aid. Though this is another piece I wouldn’t necessarily peg as particularly original, many an audience member could likely sympathize with the main character’s dilemma and exaggerated everyday struggles, and the piece came to a sweet and satisfying conclusion as his dedication was finally rewarded.
Then, there was Plastic Flowers, a compelling dramedy by Luis Roberto Hererra that takes place in a hospital room, as two coworkers discuss the fate of an injured third. Though some of the dialogue felt conspicuously exposition-y and the story lacking in enough context to make it a fully fleshed out one, the memorable central metaphor and commendable comedic chops of actresses Evelyn Perez and Toddra Brunson worked to create an overall entertaining piece.
After an intermission, the performance returned with a gripping Act 2 opener, also one of the collection’s highlights; Phanésia Pharel’s affecting And Other Dreams We Had. Set in an apocalyptic world-to-come, the show gives Brette-Raia Curah and Roderick Randle a chance to showcase their true range and sensitivity as performers as they reckon with an unenviable dilemma.
Though I would note the play’s one flaw is a lack of clarity on the protagonists’ chance of rescue from their makeshift attic hideout (with Randle’s character, Mason first seeming to articulate that there is one and then reversing his position), both his his wife Jules’ perspectives are impressively understandable, and brought to life by poetic dialogue that even finds time for a few jokes before the true stakes are revealed. A scene in which Jules’ fantasy of a happy ending is brought to hallucinatory life is one in which I noticed the particular brilliance of Ernesto K. Gonzalez’s sound design; for a brief moment, the audience could hear through her very ears as she imagined an impossible tomorrow.
Next on deck was The Vultures, a clever comedy by Ariel Cipolla that examines the brutality of the social order, especially as “filtered” through the unforgiving lens of social media. The “vultures” of the title are actually a cohort of teenage girls, one of whom, played by Chabely Ponce, is particularly eager to reinvent herself as high school approaches, while Curah and López play two more who are more resistant to her intensity and critical of her scheme. The play touches on the commodification of identity, exploring the need to project an aura of authenticity even when said authenticity is just another act.
Then, in Joel Castillo’s rich Balloo(n), a cultural clash rears its head when the Cuban-American Olivia’s very Anglo new husband Jason can’t understand why his new wife, despite articulating her dreams of finally being able to see the homeland she’d never be able to visit, isn’t quite elated to find herself being taken there on the pair’s honeymoon. For her, there’s at least as much trauma and loss for her to confront in the visit to an aquarium her parents spoke of rapturously but whose charms Jason is dismissive of.
Lauren Christina Lopez, Samuel Krogh and Evelyn Perez in ‘Balloo(n)’ by Joel Castillo (Photo by Morgan Sophia Photography)
Samuel Krogh is quite fine as another designated villain as Jason, and Lauren Cristina López’s sensitive performance as Olivia is among the best of the night as the complexity of her dilemma visibly weighs on her. But it’s Evelyn Perez who arguably steals the short as a passing balloon lady, a broadly comedic character who provides a surprising amount of insight into the young couple’s situation.
Last but definitely not least is Chris Anthony Ferrer’s 2201: Xialba, an ambitious futuristic comedy that was probably the most memorable of the bunch in terms of production values; if perhaps a bit too ambitious for its limited run time and compelling but somewhat scattered plot. Even so, Ramírez’s turn as a cadet given command of a spaceship while his superiors enjoy a New Year’s eve party, Brunson and Randle as his not-quite no-nonsense commanders, and Ponce as an emotionally unstable robot are all amusing enough to add up to a surprisingly entertaining finale.