Summer is known as the season of escapism — think blockbuster action movies on the big screen and romance novels on the beach. But Playwrights' Round Table is asking its audience to think while watching the seven plays that make up its "Summer Shorts" program.
"Summer Shorts," onstage at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, consists of seven works, each about 10 minutes long. The mini-plays deal with somber subjects: gun deaths, school shootings, the afterlife, parental abandonment. The format, as it moves quickly from one topic to another, helps keep the program from getting bogged down in woe. And the plays succeed in holding the audience's attention, even if they don't always come to particularly effective conclusions.
The best of the lot is Mark Cornell's "One Life," a hypnotic run-down of a man's existence, from birth to death and the highs and lows in between. Three narrators — billed as Feeling, Thought and Action — use short declarative sentences to map out the life of Luke, played brilliantly in a nonspeaking role by Chris Prueitt. Under the direction of Jenny Ornstein, Prueitt uses every aspect of physicality to depict the emotional roller coaster we call living.
It's fascinating to watch as in just a few scant minutes, Bernier creates a solid character with which the audience can both identify and empathize.
Katie Thayer's "Graceland" also quickly engages, as a charmingly down-to-earth woman (Amy Cuccaro) arrives at a Memphis diner on a pilgrimage to see the King — that's Elvis Presley, for you whippersnappers. The ending may be obvious a few moments before the big reveal, but it's a diverting stop at a café that serves "Love Me Chicken Tenders" and "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hot Dog."
Kimberly Luffman gives a heartfelt performance in "50 Guns," a dramatic laundry list of shooting deaths through the years. But by mixing accidents and crimes together, playwright Alex Broun has muddied the message of this agitprop piece.
Playwright Ryan Bernier also muddies his "Adapt," a tense look at the crumbling of a marriage after the couple's son commits a mass shooting. Mike Osowski and Terri Schmidt create an edgy tension as the husband and wife who don't know how to cope with their feelings. But by introducing a third character into his vignette, Bernier dilutes that tension instead of building on it.
Daniel Kaplan's "Gamma Day" also builds tension in a science-fiction future where humans voluntarily are irradiated to develop a mutant power. The catch? No one knows what the mutant power is, and to decline the radiation is to doom yourself to a second-class citizenship. As a man conflicted about the treatment, Rob DelMedico is convincingly agitated. Will he or won't he? The play's end answers the question, but left me confused as to what actually happens. Maybe I haven't watched enough "Doctor Who."
"How Will You Die," by Irene L. Pynn, could have been an episode of TV's "The Twilight Zone." A magic mirror will show customers their eventual deaths — or will it? Shaky in tone, it veers erratically from campy comedy to attempts at introspection.
The final piece, David Strauss's "Inheritance," poses an interesting thought: We get the children we deserve. But the speeches by its criminal protagonists sound as though they're from the stage rather than real life.
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• What: Collection of original short plays by members of Playwrights' Round Table
• Length: 2 hours, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through July 28
• Cost: $15, $12 seniors and students
• Call: 407-447-1700Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun