The short-play programs of the Playwrights' Round Table always present a mixed bag of topics with varying tones and styles, but the works selected for "Launch 2013" shift gears enough to give an audience member whiplash.
The seven short plays, onstage at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, range from a slapsticky look at the sex life of a man who enjoys dressing as an animal to a somber reflection on the meaning of hope at the end of the world.
Those two plays are the most successful on the program, with most of the others needing a bit more polish to shine.
In the play about the man who dresses up — a subculture known as "furries" — writer Irene L. Pynn mixes two rather pathetic people with funny results. Jackie, played by Caitlin Burdey with peroxide pigtails and a game attitude, wants more adventure in her sex life so she attends a sci-fi fan convention. It's actually a "furry" convention, where she meets Jeffrey (Christian Read, a good physical comedian). Their comical encounter, smartly directed by Laura Dewey, ends with a poignancy appropriate for two lost souls.
"93 Days," by David Strauss, effectively depicts two very different, but equally human, reactions to news that Earth will be destroyed in three months. As brothers, Jo'el Perez and Samuel Butcher contrast in demeanor and body language as one looks forward to a honeymoon while the other contemplates a suicide pill.
Hal Corley's "Last Call" has a similar doomsday setup and suffers in comparison. Though Kendra Musselle and Rob DelMedico paint distinctive portraits as mother and son addicts, Corley takes too long to reveal the bigger picture, then wraps up his most interesting conflict — with a tempting bottle of booze — too quickly.
DelMedico has a completely different persona as daft adventurer Taelor the Pantsless in "Battle Tactics," a broad spoof of fantasy role-playing characters that Strauss effectively directs like a cross between Dungeons & Dragons and Monty Python. It, too, ends abruptly though, as if writer Andy Haynes wasn't sure where to take his funny premise.
Neither "The Book of Love," about a couple's struggle to conceive, or "The Gatekeepers," about downsized white-collar workers struggling in menial fast-food jobs, has anything new to say about their respective topics.
Rod McFadden's "Prosperity" is trying really hard to say something about human nature, greed and politics with its cries of "That's the American way!" and its harping on the idea that the end justifies the means. Its message is muddy, though, and it feels wrong to end the story on a clownish laugh when it's raising serious issues. However, the play lets actors Mark Davids and David Goldstone create comically memorable characters as two bums arguing over a bottle of cheap liquor — until the stakes are raised in a funny turn of events.
• Length: 1:45, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 20
• Tickets: $12-$15
• Call: 407-761-2683Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun