Tuesday, June 5, 2012

City Theatre: Summer Shorts (reviews)

City Theatre opened the 17th iteration of Summer Shorts at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on June 1, 2012. 
An evening of Fast & Furious Fun! “Summer Shorts: America’s Short Play Festival” presents the best original short plays from established and emerging playwrights from around the nation, giving audiences hilarious comedies and memorable moments. Strung together in a whirlwind of bite-size nuggets, these mini-plays will one minute have you laughing hysterically and the next shocked beyond belief. Hang on for the ride of your life in this wonderful evening of theater that promises something for absolutely everyone!
John Manzelli,  Margaret M. Ledford and Mark Swaner directed plays that featured Elizabeth Dimon, Irene Adjan, Todd Allen Durkin, Katherine Wright, and Steven Trovillion.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
City Theatre’s annual rite of the season Summer Shorts has developed a well-earned reputation for being the dictionary definition of “uneven.” So it’s a relief that this 17th edition is the most consistently funny and entertaining in quite some time   ...the year-long effort by Producing Artistic Director John Manzelli to identify promising works has paid off in a uniformly better crop of scripts this year, none of the what-were-they-thinking entries that often marred the menu of Shorts in the past.
Manzelli directs one play and turns the others over to Margaret M. Ledford, one of the best freelance directors in the region, and Mark Swaner,  a director/playwright/actor who cut his teeth in Miami and then pursued a career in Chicago and Los Angeles.
They are blessed with a solid if smaller troupe of chameleons disguised as actors, a phrase that seems mandatory to use every year because it’s so accurate...
Bedfellows by Adam Paltzman is one of the less impressive scripts, positing that an uptight John Adams (Durkin) is forced to spend the night at an inn and share a narrow bed with the ebullient Benjamin Franklin (Trovillion). The sage’s incessant references to his accomplishments increasingly irritate  the heck out of Adams. This is where Swaner’s direction and the actors’ brio make the escalating Oscar-and-Felix frustration enough to carry the slight skit.
Kerri-Anne Lavin’s The Britneys, directed by Manzelli, featured the three women in the cast at a dysfunctional book club in which Dimon’s liquor-lubricated doyenne throws the debate off the rails by making every discussion about her personal problems. While the piece is not a laugh riot, Lavin demonstrated a facility for witty dialogue...
Intentionally quirky rather than knee-slapping funny, Three by Gregory Bonsignore is a quiet smile of a vignette... Directed again by Swaner, Trovillion abandons his broad comedy turns to deliver a completely credible portrait of a man whose gently-nurtured grief comforts him.
What the entire evening will remind Boomers of is the old, old Saturday Night Live. Remember when it was usually really funny, when skits had a comic structure, when the actors weren’t reading off cue cards, and even when a skit didn’t quite work, it was inventive and entertaining?
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
Now in its 17th year, Summer Shorts has taken on more modest dimensions, though the pleasures of its short comedies and dramas remain plentiful. This year’s lineup is a single program of nine plays... Just five hard-working actors do the artful heavy lifting, and under the guidance of directors Margaret Ledford, Mark Swaner and John Manzelli, all showcase their versatility.
Irene Adjan starts things off hoofing her way through Israel Horovitz’s The Audition Play, justifiably wondering why her potential director (Todd Allen Durkin) is so fixated on her accent when, in fact, she’s trying out for a non-speaking, non-Equity chorus job that is also non-paying.
The Britneys brings together three gals in a book club, one of those “literary” gatherings in which gossip and alcohol always seem to win out over meaningful analysis of that month’s selection. Dimon shines in this one as a micromanaging emotional wreck.
Joyce Turiskylie’s I’ll Be There pairs a successful, well-prepared stalker (Trovillion) and a woman with whom he had a single date (Dimon). It’s an odd comedy made artful through the innocence and openness the actors bring to their roles.
The festival wraps up with Reality Play, directed and written by Swaner, in which Durkin reels off some of the key conventions of reality TV... Mostly because Durkin is such a no-holds-barred actor, the play works, though occasionally in a stomach-turning way.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
Once again, it is the acting that saves the evening. Irene Adjan, Beth Dimon, Todd Allen Durkin, Stephen Trovillion and Katherine Wright all have their moments as they hustle through the nine comedies and dramas.

Adjan and Durkin get the evening off to a good start as she tap dances her way through Israel Horovitz's The Audition Play and he plays the fixated director. Adjan shows once again what a terrific comedienne she can be.
Adjan, Dimon and Wright are the book club members in The Britneys by Kerry-Anne Lavin, with Beth Dimon standing out as the drunk.
I'll Be There by Joyce Turiskylie is the most successful play of the evening, funny and well constructed, with Trovillion and Dimon able to put depth into their characters as a weird suitor and his reluctant love.
Audience reaction was positive for pretty much all the pieces, a lot of laughs and engrossed moments, so the popular vote says aye to Summer Shorts for 2012.
Chris Joseph wrote for The Miami New Times:
Todd Allen Durkin riotously depicts the ornery Adams, the quintessential straight man to Stephen Trovillion's Franklin, a shamelessly arrogant blowhard who brags about his numerous inventions, quotes himself, and calls his penis "Poor Richard."
In Lojo Simon's Moscow... Elizabeth Dimon brings the house down as Ruth, the typical Jewish mother nitpicking her daughter's life choices and lobbing guilt trips in that passive-aggressive way only mothers can do.
In Joyce Turiskylie's I'll Be There... The play takes an inventive turn on the absurdity of its characters' lives, and the result is pure comedic farce.

Green Dot Day, by Carey Crim, stars Durkin as hapless husband David, who walks into his home only to be attacked by his lingerie-clad wife, Emily, played by the perky and hilarious Irene Adjan... Green Dot Day has a sitcom feel the other plays don't, and a particularly sharp joke about Emily's mother-in-law received the longest and loudest laugh from the audience on the night I attended.

Durkin really shines in the closing play, Reality Show... The part is perfect for the bombastic Durkin, who performs some embarrassing and even gross tricks to full humorous effect in what is essentially comedic experimental theater. He really digs his teeth into the role.
The fest is not without flaws. Some of the lighting was a bit off during a couple of the plays... Still, the three directors who helm Summer ShortsJohn Manzelli, Mark Swaner, and Margaret Ledford — keep each play running tightly, with rich, sharp, and witty performances from a fantastic cast.
There isn't a single play among the nine that feels empty or like mere filler for a festival looking to cram a bunch of performances into one night. This year's Summer Shorts is an even blend of absurdity and poignancy, tenderness and vulgarity. And the result is uproarious, sidesplitting fun.
City Theatre presents Summer Shorts at the Arsht Center through June 17, 2012.

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