Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Theater review: Summer Shorts No. 16 leaner, shorter and funnier than ever

Top:‭ ‬Ceci Fernandez,‭ ‬Stephen Trovillion and Jai Rodriguez‭; ‬bottom: Finnerty Steeves and Gregg Weiner,‭ ‬in Mickey Herman Saves The‭ ‬$#‭&@ ‬World.‭ (‬Photo by George Schiavone‭)

By Hap Erstein

There was every reason to be worried about this year’s Summer Shorts,‭ ‬the‭ ‬16th annual collection of stage vignettes that has become a much-anticipated seasonal fixture in South Florida.

The number of‭ ‬5-to-20-minute scenes had been reduced to only seven,‭ ‬in a single program instead of the usual two.‭ ‬The company of performers had shriveled to a mere five‭ ‬--‭ ‬about half as many as in the past‭ ‬--‭ ‬and much of the advance publicity focused on a celebrity guest,‭ ‬Jai Rodriguez,‭ ‬featured on TV’s‭ ‬Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and in a couple of Broadway shows.

If there was one thing that we could count on about Summer Shorts was that‭ ‬they would be delivered by a well-balanced ensemble of area performers.‭ ‬Had City Theatre both shrunk the size and scope of its show this year and felt the need to bring in a ringer‭?

Not to worry.‭ ‬This year’s edition of short-attention-span theater is one of the most successful in the company’s history,‭ ‬as strong a mix of outrageous comedy bumped up against poignant drama as City Theatre has ever mustered.

Past productions,‭ ‬with as many as‭ ‬18‭ ‬sketches,‭ ‬divided into two parts and separated by a dinner break,‭ ‬had more of a festival atmosphere,‭ ‬but they also had a disheartening number of what-could-they-have-been-thinking dud scenes.

Now playing at Miami’s Arsht Center,‭ ‬in the comfortably compact Carnival Studio black box theater,‭ ‬configured proscenium style,‭ ‬the evening is pared down to‭ ‬90‭ ‬minutes,‭ ‬but each of the short plays is a winner.‭ ‬And the penultimate sketch,‭ ‬Jon Kern’s‭ ‬Hate the Loser Inside,‭ ‬is simply one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen in my years of theater-going.

Nor should there have been any concern about the casting of Rodriguez,‭ ‬who fit into the company seamlessly and demonstrated his acting chops in both comedy and drama.‭ ‬The opening skit,‭ ‬Bienvenidos a Miami by Mark Swaner,‭ ‬directly addressed the issue of featuring a star interloper and Rodriguez quickly showed that he has a sense of humor about himself.

Mock-miffed by Rodriguez’s presence was Stephen Trovillion,‭ ‬a/k/a‭ “‬Mr.‭ ‬Summer Shorts,‭” ‬for his countless appearances in which he stole the performance honors from the rest of the group.‭ ‬Late in the production he does so again as sports coach Donny Broadhaus in‭ ‬Hate the Loser Inside,‭ ‬a comic turn so deft and delicious it brings to mind nothing less than Lucille Ball and her classic Vitameatavegamin routine.‭

Trovillion plays a wound-too-tight celeb coach,‭ ‬trying to videotape a commercial on a kitchen set,‭ ‬but he keeps flubbing his lines.‭ ‬That’s it.‭ ‬Nothing more.‭ ‬But Trovillion is such a master of comic timing and the slow burn that the results are convulsively funny.‭ ‬In an evening of strong writing and performances,‭ ‬he remains‭ “‬Mr.‭ ‬Summer Shorts.‭”

He is matched with Rodriguez in another of the best scenes,‭ ‬a simple but affecting encounter between two men in a therapist’s waiting room‭ (‬Quiet,‭ ‬Please‭! ‬by Garth Wingfield.‭)‬.‭ ‬Trovillion also shows his silly side as a Caligula-like Emperor from outer space in‭ ‬Mickey Herman Saves The‭ ‬$#‭&@ ‬World,‭ ‬a sci-fi spoof by Marco Ramirez that,‭ ‬while amusing,‭ ‬went on a tad too long.‭

Ceci Fernandez,‭ ‬Jai Rodriguez and‭ ‬Finnerty Steeves
‭ ‬in Chronicles Simpkins Will Cut Your Ass.
‬(Photo by George Schiavone‭)

The most prominent name among the featured playwrights is Israel Horovitz,‭ ‬whose tight dramatic scene,‭ ‬What Strong Fences Make,‭ ‬pits an Israeli border guard against an old acquaintance turned suicide bomber.‭ ‬Rodriguez and Gregg Weiner fulfill the roles well,‭ ‬though the writing lacks surprise.

Weiner is returning to Summer Shorts after a five-year absence with a particularly welcome presence in‭ ‬Aboard the Guy V.‭ ‬Molinari by Bara Swain,‭ ‬about two strangers on the Staten Island ferry,‭ ‬both intent on leaping to their death.‭ ‬Finnerty Steeves,‭ ‬who has a terrifically expressive face,‭ ‬plays the other down-on-her-luck loner.

Steeves pairs with Ceci Fernandez in Richard Hellesen’s‭ ‬Dos Corazones‭ (‬Two Hearts‭)‬,‭ ‬a Summer Shorts favorite that has appeared in two previous editions.‭ ‬It involves two new mothers in maternity ward beds,‭ ‬side-by-side yet separated by a language gulf,‭ ‬learning to communicate about the responsibilities of the newborns in their lives.‭

Summer Shorts likes to end with a broadly comic sketch involving the entire company and does so again this time with another encore playlet,‭ ‬Rolin Jones’s‭ ‬Chronicles Simpkins Will Cut Your Ass,‭ ‬about a trio of no-nonsense mean girls terrorizing a male peer and a helpless playground monitor teacher on the tetherball court.‭ ‬Nearly mute because of her dental retainer,‭ ‬Steeves still manages to gain laughs with her mumbles and takes,‭ ‬while Rodriguez has fun in drag as the title ring leader.

For consistency and sheer entertainment value,‭ ‬this‭ ‬16th Summer Shorts is a winner,‭ ‬even if downsizing for economic reasons was the cause.‭ ‬You will probably enjoy the whole evening,‭ ‬but if you saw only Trovillion in‭ ‬Hate the Loser Inside you would get your money’s worth from the experience.

SUMMER SHORTS.‭ ‬City Theatre at the Adrienne Arsht Center,‭ ‬1300‭ ‬Biscayne Blvd.,‭ ‬Miami.‭ ‬Through Sunday,‭ ‬June‭ ‬26.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$45.‭ ‬Call:‭ ‬(305‭) ‬949-6722.‭ Summer Shorts also will play the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale from June 30-July 3. For tickets and more information, call (954) 462-0222 or visit www.browardcenter.org.

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