City Theater’s Summer Shorts has been a mainstay of the summer theater season for 20 years, a cool way to spend a hot summer night. The results over the years have been uneven, but the company has pulled out all the stops with this year’s edition.
The 2015 program of Summer Shorts is more consistent in its excellence than in past years. The nine plays presented have a deeper subtext, exploring human emotion in an often funny and moving way.
The laughs start early, before a single performer takes the stage. In a video that takes the place of a curtain speech, Producing Artistic Director John Manzelli is an enthusiastic tour guide, giving the audience a funny behind-the-scenes look at Summer Shorts. The video pops up between the plays at various times, with surprise appearances from Summer Shorts alums and well-wishers in the theatrical community.
This year’s Summer Shorts consists of six cast members---Elizabeth Dimon, Tom Wahl, Karen Stephens, Bechir Sylvain, Chastity Hart and Michael Uribe---and four directors---Margaret M Ledford, Paul Tei, Manzelli and Sylvain.
Ledford brings her unique skill and sensitivity to three plays. In The Anthropology Section by Patricia Cotter, two former lovers (Dimon and Stephens) meet by chance in a bookstore. In Bedtime by Jane Martin, one of the trickiest plays to act, stage and direct, a couple (Wahl, Stephens, Hart and Uribe) is seen concurrently before their wedding, as they enthusiastically look toward their future, and after nearly 40 years of marriage, as they face their final months together. And in Flare by Edith Freni, a nervous woman and an off-duty airline pilot (Dimon and Wahl) share a flight that becomes unexpectedly confessional. Watching Dimon and Wahl, two Summer Shorts pros, in this short is like watching a master class. Flare is an example of Summer Shorts and the short play form at its best, as it expertly blends comedy and pathos with characters who make a real connection with one another.
Sylvain directs the profoundly moving Risen from the Dough by France-Luce Benson, featuring Stephens as a stubborn Haitian-American widow and Hart as her sister as they prepare to open the family bakery in Miami. Stephens’ performance in this play is powerful and heartbreaking.
Manzelli’s plays go right for the funny bone. In Mandate by Kelly Younger, a husband with two daughters and a need for male companionship (Uribe) comes on a little two strong to another dad (Sylvain) on and outing set up by their wives. In Human Resources by R. Eric Thomas, a traditional office worker (Wahl) is flummoxed by his new coworkers, as they all appear to be Avenue Q-style puppets.
Tei imbues his plays with his quirky vision. In Mrs. Evelyn Foxy and Her Low Orbit Anxiety by Steve Yockey and commissioned by City Theater, Tei employs haunting and funny images to punctuate the tale of a woman (Dimon) with an intense fear of falling space debris and a desire to keep others safe, even if it means trapping them in her home. In Let’s Get Physical, another play by Younger, a patient (Wahl) is put in an awkward situation by his doctor (Sylvain) during his physical exam.
In Cougar by Holli Harms, a woman (Stephens) waiting to reunite with an old boyfriend gets a surprise when the man’s handsome son (Uribe) shows up instead.
Jodi Dellaventura’s scenic design is very detailed for each short, not an easy feat considering that there are only moments for a full set change between each short. Matt Corey’s sound, especially the music chosen for the transitions between plays, keeps the energy up and the evening moving. Ellis Tillman’s costumes in past years have included, sheep, Munchkin and dolphin suits, and this year he costumes puppets to become mini versions of the actors.
This year’s Summer Shorts is a terrific way for City Theater to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
Summer Shorts runs through June 28 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Arsht Center in Miami.
For tickets and more information, visit CityTheater.com.