The first time I devoted this column to Playwrights' Round Table, the Central Florida organization dedicated to developing original scripts, we were in the midst of the 2008 presidential campaign. Back then, PRT themed their annual "Summer Shorts" slate around "red versus blue." Four years later, we're again mired in the midst of an election, but this time PRT is steering clear of politics. Their current anthology (appearing at Orlando Shakes through Aug. 5) has no explicit theme, but a thread of miscommunication runs through these seven showlets.
Hot Salsa in Space
(Written by David Strauss; directed by Daniel Cooksley) You're unlikely to bump into any astrophysicists at 3 a.m. in the Snappy Snack Shack convenience store; only philosophizing stoner Nell (Jenn Gannon) and her studious assistant manager pal, Sally (Marie George), are awake when Bob (Sam Waters) barges in, babbling in foreign tongues. It's soon revealed that Bob is an extraterrestrial with a wonky translator, lured to Earth by an interstellar Doritos advertisement. Waters is winningly wacky, channeling Shatner and Nixon; beneath the silly surface the script has something witty to say about the importance of "uniqueness."
(Written by Alex Dremann; directed by Chuck Dent) Jake (Jim McClellan) may be an oafish bruiser with an annoying laugh and a head like an overripe peach, but at least the guy knows what he likes: eating pie and beating people to death with his bare hands (not necessarily in that order). Normally he doesn't think twice about the targets on the purple Post-its his mafia handler, Karwacki, hands him. But when the newest name is his own, Jake finally has to think for himself. In an odd tonal mix, the Abbott & Costello-esque comic wordplay is replaced by brutal violence in the abrupt ending.
The Secret of Jarlsberg
(Written by Arthur M. Jolly; directed by Jenny Ornstein) Sure, you can try making fondue from cheap cheddar and flour, but if you're going to do it right you have to spring for the high-dollar fromage. When underemployed student Reynold (Corey Volence) blows his girlfriend's (Julie Snyder) waitressing earnings on Norwegian cheese, their relationship nearly crumbles like cubed bread. This kitchen-sink drama feels authentically angsty until its final moments, when it suddenly turns unrealistically romantic.
One Three Two
(Written by Michael Weems; directed by David Strauss) What happens to an accountant who loses his numbers? Jake (Daniel Cooksley) takes a long walk when he realizes that the digits that constantly dance around in his head – phone numbers, addresses, ATM PINs, security codes – have suddenly vanished, leaving his wife (Amy Pastoor) confused and panicked. Cooksley is dynamite delivering a run-on monologue on the overwhelming complexity of modern life, but it's all over too soon; this intriguing concept needs a longer format to fully develop.
The Czar's Man
(Written by Gregg Kreutz; directed by Avis-Marie Barnes) Five Russian revolutionaries (Mark Davids, David Goldstone, Jim McClellan, Daniel Oser, Bill Warriner) are caged in a cell, awaiting execution at the hands of their comrades. One among them is a traitor to their cause, and their only chance for reprieve is to out the infiltrator. When no one volunteers to sacrifice himself, the condemned start a surreal game of "shortest straw" to select a scapegoat. Uneven accents make the tone a little lighter than I'd like, but this piece has the potential to be a perfect pocket-sized take on The Usual Suspects, complete with a Verbal Kint-worthy conclusion.
A Table for Two
(Written by Molly Campbell; directed by Jennifer Rea) When Diane (Cynthia McClendon) and Warren (John Moughan) go shopping for a wedding present for their youngest daughter, a simple kitchenette table sparks nostalgic reminiscences about their bohemian days. The success of this sort of sweetly sentimental scene depends on an emotional connection between the actors and the first half of this short was slow going, with a noticeable lack of eye contact between the performers. Thankfully, by the end they both loosened up, eventually exuding a genuine warmth that made me empathize with these empty-nesters.
Showing Your Hand
(Written by Stephen J. Miller; directed by Kristen Dewey) First dates are always awkward. When painfully shy online poker enthusiasts Travis (Brian Groth) and Alison (Jenny Ornstein) finally meet in the flesh, the chances of them ending up happily ever after are already infinitesimal. But add in the fact that both are beset by psychotic voices that berate them through hand puppets, and the odds of failure become epic – or do they? Saving the best for last, this inspired skit benefits from breathlessly paced patter broken by hilariously uncomfortable silences, and a leading lady as goofily adorable as any Deschanel.