Friday, June 26, 2009

City Theatre: Signature Shorts (5-1/2 Reviews)

City Theatre opened its latest version of its Summer Shorts Festival with Signature Shorts on May 28, 2009.

This year's festival includes plays by Nobel laureate Harold Pinter, Christopher Durang, Cyndi Lauper, Michael John LaChiusa, Lisa Loeb, Michael McKeever, Marco Ramirez, Andrew Rosendorf and Christopher Demos-Brown.

This year's cast includes Elena Maria Garcia, Stephen G. Anthony, Laura Turnbull, Erin Joy Schmidt, David Hemphill, John Manzelli, and Stephen Trovillion (whom I've never seen cast outside Summer Shorts).

Directors include Stuart Melzter, Gail Garrisan, Avi Hoffman, Stephanie Norman, Margaret Ledford, and Gordon McConnell.

I don't know who Jon Thomason is, or what the Forum Publishing Group is, but the Sun-Sentinel buried an article he wrote in the Community section. Is it a review? An interview? I can't decide. I guess it's a half and half:
The most rousing numbers are, without question, the screwball comedies, best represented by Christopher Durang's absurdist farce "Kitty the Waitress." In it, a tourist (Stephen Trovillion) sits down to eat at a Caribbean bistro, only to be assailed by his overzealous server, a talking French feline (Elena Maria Garcia). All legs and undulations, Garcia's performance is a comic revelation that, in the opening-night production I saw, had Trovillion barely containing his laughter.
"In most of the plays, I would never even dream of [laughing]. I'm a professional," said Trovillion, a Summer Shorts veteran celebrating his 13th year with the production. "But there are occasional plays that are so over-the-top and crazy-funny. It always reminds me of 'The Carol Burnett Show.' She's Tim Conway, and I'm Harvey Korman.
Garcia, an area acting teacher enjoying her sixth year with Summer Shorts, is memorable in all of her parts, including a commitment-fearing, sexualized flautist in "Falutin," a starry-eyed hippie in "Cravin Tutweiler (The Real Life Story Of)" and a housewife dispassionately unloading her sexual perversions over dinner in Jeffrey James Ircink's hilariously droll "Pass the Salt, Please."
"Short plays are much harder than full-lengths," (playwright Michael McKeever) said. "You still have to have all the elements – a creative arc, a beginning, middle and end – but you have to squeeze them into 10 minutes. The challenge is to make the characters be as real and as full as they can be, and do it within that time frame."
"It's almost like an espresso coffee for each of [the plays]," Garcia said. "You're limited on time, so you have to have a really good grip. You do not have that time of discovery. You go in and throw it at the bull's-eye. Summer Shorts is not for every actor."
Mary Damiano reviewed for Miami Artzine:
City Theatre’s Summer Shorts festival is more streamlined this year. Gone are the Program A and B of past years; now there’s an abbreviated Signature Shorts, the festival’s mainstream program
But even with only eight plays in Signature Shorts, there are some head scratchers. Jettison by Brendon Andolsek Bradley, about three men adrift in a lifeboat is predictable and goes nowhere. There’s nothing predictable about Christopher Durang’s Kitty the Waitress, about a divorced man who has a unique encounter with a particularly provocative waitress, which reaches fever pitch before sputtering to an end. Both plays do provide some juicy moments for the actors, especially John Manzelli in Jettison and Elena Maria Garcia as the titular waitress. Garcia gets all feline on us, showing off her mastery of physical comedy. The New World Order by Harold Pinter never fulfills its deliciously unnerving beginning.
The most powerful and unforgettable play in Signature Shorts is Orlah by Andrew Rosendorf, the resident playwright at Florida Stage in Manalapan. This is the world premiere of Orlah, a stunning visual piece about a Jewish couple (Schmidt and Manzelli) during the Spanish Inquisition, who risk their lives for their faith. Without using dialogue, Rosendorf illuminates the power of religious devotion and the horror of persecution. Avi Hoffman’s strong direction and Jeff Quinn’s evocative lighting enhances Rosendorf’s ideas. Orlah is the kind of play that makes one thankful for City Theatre and their annual celebration of short plays; otherwise, we might never get to experience the beauty and power of Orlah.
.Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Miami New Times:
Go see Summer Shorts. Just do. It's a lot cheaper than the imported Broadway dealio (Chicago) running in the larger theater down the hall...
And if you have your druthers, you might as well take your Shorts on a Saturday — the only evening when you can see both Signature Shorts and Undershorts back-to-back. They are both see-worthy for the same reasons: novelty, naughtiness, inventiveness, and a madcap, almost desperate kind of verve that comes only from talented people working at the extremity of their abilities.
The best pieces are Michael McKeever's "Cravin Tutweiler: (The Real Life Story Of)", (and) Christopher Durang's "Kitty the Waitress"... These bawdy, viciously witty, and unerringly self-aware little plays demonstrate a control of tone and speed that writers and interpreters of even very long plays should study and emulate.
The acting throughout all of this is sublime. Stephen Trovillion, Erin Joy Schmidt, Laura Turnbull, John Manzelli, Stephen G. Anthony, David Hemphill, and especially Elena Maria Garcia wear so many masks so comfortably that, by the middle of Undershorts, the effort begins to look a little superhuman. The thought and heart they've invested in each of their small characters is shocking, and their dedication is absolutely moving. Look at how much emotion Turnbull injects into a monologue in "Snow" (Signature Shorts), in which she plays a shut-in (and in which she wasn't even supposed to appear; the MIA actress was slated to do the part). Look at the way Garcia uses her body in role after role, sensuously dancing with her lines and using her pneumatic hips to create laughs where none are written and to magnify the ones that are. These are acrobatic, athletic, and aesthetic feats — meaningless and delightful and delirious. You won't find them anywhere else.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
If they had to write the perennial “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” some of South Florida’s best, most versatile actors could wax enthusiastically about immersing themselves in City Theatre’s Summer Shorts, an annual festival of 10-15 minute playlets, now in its 14th year.

For many of those 14 summers, former Floridian Stephen Trovillion has returned to the area to dominate the mini-play ensemble. He does so again this year, appearing in 10 of the double-bill’s 17 works, but he gets some stiff competition for performance honors from the wildly comic Elena Maria Garcia.
Over the years, there have been a few dramatic plays that have made an impact, but the Shorts format seems to favor sketch comedy. That seemed to hold this time, with a few exceptions, such as brief, underwritten slice of history, Andrew Rosendorf’s Orlah, about the persecution of Jews in 15th-century Spain, and a feeble tale of survival, Jettison by Brendan Andolsek Bradley, which takes place mid-ocean on a lifeboat populated by three starving guys and a bunny rabbit. The Pinter play seemed to substitute verbal abuse for physical torture, and while the dialogue crackled, the script had no real payoff.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the Sun-Sentinel:
It may seem strange to single out one performer from the superb ensemble that City Theatre has gathered for its 14th season of Summer Shorts, but Elena Maria Garcia's limber physicality and comic instincts convince you that Carol Burnett is playing the stages of South Florida.

The rest of the cast brings its "A" game, the directors are universally imaginative and the scripts of eight quirky short plays are, as usual, a diverse and scruffy anthology whose quality ranges from hilarious to baffling.

But watch Garcia with a thick French accent impersonating a pussycat working in a restaurant (don't ask, just go with it) as she contorts her body trying to get the wine out of a corked bottle in Christopher Durang's Kitty the Waitress. Even her acting partner, Stephen Trovillion as a nonplused customer, couldn't keep a straight face opening night.
I was there, and it was just like watching Tim Conway breaking Harvey Korman: a beautiful thing.
The strongest script is Cravin Tutwieler (The Real Life Story of), a delightfully absurd comedy by Davie resident Michael McKeever, who debuted the piece last year at the 24 Hour Theatre Project, both directed by Amy London. A Republican businesswoman (Laura Turnbull), a bubble head heiress (Erin Joy Schmidt) and a passionate artist (Garcia) recall their love affairs with a mysterious man of the world (Trovillion). The interweaving stories punctuated with witty repartee and whip crack timing remind you of trapeze work at Cirque du Soleil.
Christine Dolen reviewed for the Miami Herald:
...City Theatre's annual Summer Shorts Festival, thematic and stylistic variety is what gets both the artists and the audiences jazzed. Strong or weak, puzzling or inspired, a Summer Shorts bill is never boring.
It's a company full of inventive artistry, experience and versatility, and both the actors and directors make it easy to believe the short comedies and little dramas wouldn't be nearly as engaging without their illuminating (and sometimes flaw-obscuring) skills.
She gives a review of each one-act play that made up the evening: I can't possibly include them all; click through and read the entire review.

Signature Shorts is presented by City Theatre at the Arsht Center through June 21. It then moves to the Broward Center June 25th - 28th.


  1. i believe the exact quote in reference to brandon thorp's review from the Miami NewTimes was:

    "The best pieces are Michael McKeever's "Cravin Tutweiler: (The Real Life Story Of)" (Signature Shorts), Christopher Durang's "Kitty the Waitress" (Signature Shorts), and Jeffrey James Ircink's "Pass the Salt, Please" (Undershorts). These bawdy..."

    you left off my play, "Pass the Salt, Please.", which received rave reviews in the press and from audience members. Brandon Thorp also wrote this in a follow-up review just before Summer Shorts moved to Fort Lauderdale its last week:

    "But if you can see just one, the smart money says to check out Undershorts, which includes maybe the awesomest short New Times has ever witnessed: "Pass The Salt," by Jeffrey James Ircink, in which a laconic dinner table conversation becomes... well, something else. You've gotta see it."

  2. James- this is the review page for SIGNATURE Shorts, not UnderShorts. Sadly, Brandon lumped two plays into one review, and my format is one play, one review, and for the UnderShorts side, editing out the Signature Shorts plays in the quote simply didn't work for the UnderShorts summary, so it was dropped in lieu of other quotes. Sometimes stuff slips into the cracks, and that's why I always link the original review and urge readers to follow the links to read them.

    And yes, "Pass The Salt" was absolutely one of the best plays in UnderShorts.

    Thanks for your comments, and I look forward to more of your plays!

  3. CLJ -

    ...just looking after my "kid".

    wow. i am impressed! you took the time to check back here for comments and responded. you, CLJ, have my utmost respect. i'm glad you enjoyed my play, "PTSP.". i was there opening weekend and had a wonderful time. i felt the festival was superb and i was treated like a king. I LOOK FORWARD to returning to Miami with another short some day.

    jeffrey james ircink

  4.'re exactly right. my apologies. yes, Signature - not Undershorts. my mouth...sometimes gets the best of me. :). enjoy the rest of your summer!