Summer Shorts 2017 returns to New York for its eleventh season, bringing six new American plays in just the right portions for warm summer nights. Each play is only one act, but a mini-production unto itself, with its own writer, director, and actors and each with its own entirely different world.
These light, funny, amusing one-act shows are presented in two programs, Series A and Series B. Each series is composed of three of the festival’s offerings: with Jack, Playing God, and Acolyte making up Series A, and A Woman, Wedding Bash, and Break Point making up Series B.
These bite-sized morsels range from funny to introspective to fiery to heartbreaking. No two plays are particularly similar. They bounce from a rather silly depiction of God (whose latest miracle, in case you were wondering, was the Wendy’s Baconator – you’re welcome) to a harrowing confrontation that leaves your mind spinning. Each series is well balanced; and the plays complement each other, offering just the right amount of ups and downs, fun and whatever the opposite of fun is…that is, whatever the writer has decided is the opposite of fun.
Set in the cozy blackbox theater at 59E59 Theaters, these plays display a certain (and probably necessary) flexibility. With large, white-paneled walls and a raised stage, each transitions into the next seamlessly, shuffling various IKEA furniture pieces and transforming from pastor’s offices to park benches to squash courts in the blink of an eye.
With Summer Shorts, the range of emotions we experience is perhaps the most entertaining part. You never know quite what will come next. In Series A, the mournful Jack contrasts with the much lighter Playing God, which imagines Our Lord as a playfully spiteful, omniscient character looking to reclaim His shrinking role on Earth. But Acolyte – the last of the trio – is by far the most intense. Set in Ayn Rand’s living room, you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat as the drama escalates from a scholarly debate to a life-changing decision. Orlagh Cassidy’s depiction of Ayn Rand, the controversial writer, is mesmerizing, creating a personality both fascinating and terrifying to behold. She navigates an ascent from warm and professorial to authoritarian with the slick, scary persuasiveness of a dystopian villain.
In Series B, the one-act plays kick off with A Woman, a debate about where feminism and the Christian church meet – a serious topic that touches upon many cultural soft spots, at least for me, but not without a healthy dose of laughter. The final play, Break Point, seemed to be a study in vulnerable masculinities. The acting is admirable, and the drama of it all is compelling enough, but as my friend and I agreed, there’s only so long you can listen to fragile men fight.
But Wedding Bash, the second play in rotation, stands out among the three. Linsdey Kraft and Andrew Leeds find comedy gold in testing the cultural limits for friendship, authenticity, and selfishness in the guise of the most uncomfortable dinner party. As social obligations are abruptly torn down, each person realizes there’s nothing holding him or her back anymore. It’s hilarious to watch a situation unfold that, for all you know, could be one broken boundary away from any given friendship.
Summer Shorts 2017 is thoroughly entertaining. It showcases talent across the board, from directors to writers to actors and more. The plays are even delightfully up-to-the-minute, featuring a few topical cultural and political Easter eggs (for example, what appeared to be an edit made to recognize transwomen). Quick and amusing, with a perfect mix of humor and intensity, these one-acts make for a fun night of theater, particularly for those looking for fresh new works.