Shorts Gone Wild 2 is like the looser, less affluent LGBT cousin of City Theatre’s long-running Summer Shorts festival.
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).
Presented at Empire Stage in Fort Lauderdale (where the opening night air-conditioning gave a less-than-stellar performance) 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 features Buzzeo as a certain Cowardly Lion, Stabile as his cheating boyfriend and Moody as a deadpan bartender, and it’s the evening’s funniest show. 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. Turns out that bride Sarah and her bestie Ally (Ramirez) have a history, and the wedding is bringing sacrifices on both sides.
Fridh and Turner play pals who hit the rocks in Fielding Edlow’s farcical A Bump Between Friends, which ponders the question of whether it’s cool to sleep with a friend’s long-ago ex. Carey Crim’s Glamping pairs Ramirez and Moody as a couple going on a not-so-glamorous camping trip (glam would mean it’s “glamping”) to celebrate her lesbian ex-partner’s wedding, taking the pair on a journey through the past toward a possible long-term future.
In Gary Garrison’s Game On, Buzzeo and Stabile turn a not-so-hot first date into a discussion of how different gay men navigate through the world, touching on self-confidence, pride and openness. Christopher Demos-Brown’s I Alone is the trickiest play, as Buzzeo and Moody play former high school classmates at a reunion, with Stabile and Ramirez as their very different younger selves.
Like The Emperor Is Naked, Tony Finstrom’s The Last Time I Saw Bathhouse Betty uses the whole cast in a gossipy romp about Bette Midler (and her accompanist, who happened to be Barry Manilow) doing a Halloween gig at New York’s Continental Baths.
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.