Wednesday, August 13, 2014

City Theatre/Island City Stage: Shorts Gone Wild 2 (reviews)

SGW2rc1The City Theatre and Island City Stage co-production of Shorts Gone Wild 2 opened at Empire Stage on August 7, 2014.

Take 6 actors, 8 playwrights, 4 directors and a design team and whip them up until they peak into 8 short, provocative, funny and thoroughly entertaining plays with a LGBT bent.  It is perfect summer fun that features brand new, never performed plays from 5 local, professional playwrights up close and in your face in South Florida’s hottest intimate theatrical space.

A directorial stable that included Michael Leeds, Margaret M. Ledford, Teddy Harrell, Gail S. Garrisan and Andy Rogow , directed a cast that featured Gladys Ramirez, Craig Moody, Matthew Stabile, Renée Elizabeth Turner, Larry Buzzeo and Niki Fridh.


Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

This is the second annual collaboration of City Theatre, which produces the annual Summer Shorts in Miami, and Island City Stage, the LGBT-centric company in Fort Lauderdale. As we’ve ranted before, writing short plays is a surprisingly difficult and underrated task; there are usually one or more entries in any play festival around the country that don’t measure up.

This edition strikes us as more consistent than last year’s inaugural effort, although there often seems to be less meat there than you hunger for. But the uniformity of quality is an asset because, once again, the evening opens up with a particular piece, but the order of the rest of the seven playlets is chosen by picking numbers out of a hat…

…a repertory group of six actors with unflagging energy and charm throw themselves in a brace of eight plays written by local and out-of-town playwrights and helmed by local directors.

…one favorite is local playwright Christopher Demos-Brown’s I Alone, a dramatic playlet directed by Island City’s managing artistic director Andy Rogow.

If you don’t look at the list of characters in the program, it may take a couple of minutes for the premise to sink in. But when it does, it’s a rewarding set up and follow-through… Frank has had a sex change operation and was Ben’s lover in school. The alter egos articulate the painful emotions that the taciturn men cannot utter: Frank’s feeling rejected for Ben’s current snub, Ben’s bafflement at Frank’s choice and extreme embarrassment at their previous relationship. This is not played for laughs; instead their paralysis stands in for the discomfort that much of society has in coming to terms with transgendered people, even as it accepts homosexuality.

Local playwright and actor Michael McKeever penned the funniest piece of the night, Lion in a Bear Bar, directed by Michael Leeds and featuring a hilarious performance by Larry Buzzeo as the ultimate Friend of Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion. The premise has the Lion – complete with shaggy mane, tail and Bert Lahr persona – squabbling with his lover Matt Stabile in a gay bar.

Closing the opening night slate was The Last Time I Saw Betty Bathhouse, by local writer and arts supporter Tony Finstrom and directed by Garrisan… The play isn’t as insightful as the previous entries, but it does exude a warm glow of nostalgia as it catalogues familiar types and an out-there comfort level that marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement.

Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:

A co-production of Miami-based City Theatre and Fort Lauderdale’s Island City Stage, Shorts Gone Wild 2 brings eight stylistically diverse short plays to life, thanks to five savvy directors (Michael Leeds, Margaret M. Ledford, Teddy Harrell, Gail S. Garrisan and Andy Rogow) and six versatile actors (Craig Moody, Larry Buzzeo, Matt Stabile, Gladys Ramirez, Niki Fridh and Renée Elizabeth Turner).

…the varied plays are fun, hilarious, touching, unsettling, sweet. The evening is also a bit interactive as different audience members pick numbers out of a hat to decide the running order. Some plays are stronger than others, but there’s not a whimpering dog in the bunch.

In part because of the play that always comes first, in part because of the production’s deliberately simple quick-change design, Shorts Gone Wild 2 has a playful let’s-put-on-a-show vibe.

Leeds puts on his playwright’s hat to get the party started with The Emperor Is Naked, a meta theater piece about the Shorts cast getting ready to start the evening. Emperor accomplishes two things: It sets up a running gag about real-life spouses Stabile and Fridh having a jealous tiff, and it demonstrates how many ways the sculpted, stark-naked Moody can creatively cover up his privates without flashing the audience. Many, as it turns out.

Prolific South Florida playwright Michael McKeever contributes two of the strongest pieces, each a short-form testament to his versatility. Lion in a Bear Bar  (and)... Sarah Stein Sends a Selfie begins with an oh-my-God moment as a hungover bride-to-be (Fridh) discovers she sent an XXX-rated selfie to her maid of honor’s mom

The plays in Shorts Gone Wild 2 explore sexual orientation and experimentation, where life choices lead, the ache of betrayal and more, through a combination of humor and truth. That’s a tall order for short plays, but thanks to an engaging cast, smart directors and skilled playwrights, Shorts Gone Wild 2 measures up.

JW Arnold reviewed for South Florida Gay News:

Here’s a recipe for a tasty night of theater: Take seven talented local playwrights, mix them in with a quirky cast of six actors, season with some LGBT themes and allow five award-winning directors to perfectly cook the concoction.  Island City Stage and City Theatre are once again serving up Shorts Gone Wild, a short play festival at Fort Lauderdale’s Empire Stage, and the results are simply delicious.

…plays include Fielding Edlow’s A Bump Between Friends (Gail S. Garrison, director), starring Renee Elizabeth Turner as a narcissistic woman who reacts jealously when Fridh announces she is pregnant after a one-night stand with the child of Turner’s old boyfriend. The play is very funny, but like a soufflé that crashes at the last minute, lacking a solid punch line.

Game On, by Gary Garrison (Andy Rogow, director) involves a heart-to-heart examination of the qualities that define and attract gay men after a first date gone bad. Buzzeo portrays a flamboyant gay man while Stabile is seeking someone on Grindr who is a little more “straight acting.” The play has lots of heart, but substitute AOL or Manhunt for Grindr and we’ve heard this story many times before.

Unfortunately, Christopher Demos-Brown’s I Alone (Andy Rogow, director) is the only play that just doesn’t work. Demos-Brown’s writing is smart and heartfelt, a rich soufflé... It takes several minutes—a lifetime for a short play—for the audience to realize I Alone is written as dialogues between both the current friends and their “former” selves. It would be a worthwhile effort to explore some other staging ideas to save what became a collapsed soufflé.

…credit goes to Peter A. Lovello and Michael McClain for their clever color-coded costumes and props, another throwback to last year’s production, but a critical ingredient in this banquet, nonetheless.

The City Theatre and Island City Stage co-production of Shorts Gone Wild 2 plays at Empire Stage through September 7, 2014.

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