DEFT ACTORS HAVE `SUMMER SHORTS’ UP AND RUNNING

From: The Miami Herald
Date: June 10, 2003
Author: Christine Dolen

Showbiz gets its due, and then some, during City Theatre’s Summer Shorts 2003, the company’s annual smorgasbord of bite-sized theater.

Theater-as-hell, tres gay cable access TV, lives played out from an actual script, an aspiring poet-performer’s life cut short – all flow from the imaginations of playwrights delving into write-what-you-know territory.

Grouped into two programs, this year’s 15 short plays (now at the University of Miami’s Ring Theatre, next month at the Broward Center) run the gamut from artsy theatricality to naturalistic warmth to hilarious parody. The deftly versatile eight-person acting company – Chaz Mena, Stephen Trovillion, Elizabeth Dimon, Kim Ostrenko, Brandon Morris, Gary Lee Smith, Lauren Feldman and Jenny Levine – is a joy to watch, even if that doesn’t apply to every single one of the plays, staged by eight different directors.

Program A begins with Mark Harvey Levin’s Scripted, in which a couple (Trovillion and Levine) wakes up to discover a script containing every word they’ll utter throughout the day. It’s a look at free will and boredom, the latter applying to the play itself.

In Bret Fetzer’s Capsule, a cosmonaut who has never been alone (Mena) freaks out as he prepares for a space walk. Frightened into silence, he responds only to the voice of his German lover (Levine). A ground communicator (Smith) and narrator (Dimon) are the other voices in this so-so theater-as-high-art piece.

William Mastrosimone’s 5 Minutes offers a vulgar, funny, tender look at a dying man (Trovillion) who makes a last request of his best friend (Mena), exacting a promise that will benefit both his buddy and his soon-to-be widow.

Hell becomes an audition, with Lucifer (Mena) as a superstar director, in Jon Robin Baitz’ Show People. Though it’s an inside-theater piece – the man in the very hot seat, Jerry (Smith), is modeled on Shubert Organization chairman Gerald Schoenfeld – it’s a furiously funny play, with Mena sparkling as a self-satisfied, almost pixieish devil.

Susan Miller’s The Grand Design at first seems a dullish lecture by a scientist (Morris) on the subject of images sent into outer space. But after his down-to-earth mother (Dimon) appears, the play finds its human connection and tenderness.

Popcorn Sonata by Jenny Lyn Bader speaks to the perfectionist, having-it-all moms (Ostrenko in this case) who find managing their difficult little darlings nearly impossible, though a teenage sitter (Feldman) makes it look maddeningly easy.

José Rivera’s Impact, which might have been heart-rending, instead is a bafflingly calm recitation of treasured memories by co-workers leaping from the burning World Trade Center – though you could be forgiven for missing the context entirely.

In My Name is Leslie, customers (Trovillion, Morris, Feldman) declare war (and utilize the conventions and clichés of war movies) on a waitress (Ostrenko) who blithely promises to take their orders – then smilingly ignores them.

Program B, also with more treasures than duds, begins with Shel Silverstein’s One Tennis Shoe, in which a middle-class man (Smith) confronts his wife (Dimon) about her not-so-inner bag lady tendencies. It’s followed by the bizarre Merge from Neil LaBute, whose characters inevitably act out our worst fears. This time, a woman (Levine) returns from a business trip, and on the drive home slowly (and nonchalantly) confesses to her husband (Mena) the details of a drunken group sex experience. Ugh.

In Louis Felder’s Flight of Fancy, a seasoned salesman (Smith) and hot-shot young “marketing” rep (Feldman) explore the commonalities and differences in closing a deal. Marco Ramirez’ lovely Pipo and Fufo: 1969 considers the easy, mock-insulting friendship of two Cuban men (Morris and Mena). Mary Gallagher’s First Communion, in which a woman (Dimon) remembers the pure ideal and dispiriting reality (including a rampaging nun) of that experience, will mean most to those who have lived through it, little to anyone else.

Feldman stars in her own soaring play Asteroid Belt, juxtaposing a doomed woman-child dreamer and her worried parents (Trovillion and Ostrenko). And Paul Rudnick’s outrageously funny Mister Charles, Currently of Palm Beach is the gem of both programs, giving Trovillion the chance to dazzle – tastefully, of course – as the droll Mr. Charles, host of his own gleefully gay cable show.

Design-wise, the festival similarly ranges from terrific (Steve Shapiro’s evocative sound) to tepid (Michael M. Williams’ rolling metallic grids, a distracting and cheap-looking background). But on the whole, Summer Shorts 2003 is one of City Theatre’s meatier efforts.

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