Short plays ought to be perfect summer fare—theatrical tapas for warm weather appetites. But instead of savory amuse-bouches, Summer Shorts’ first installment serves up mostly reheated clichés and stale middle-aged ennui.
Nancy Giles’s Things My Afro Taught Me is exactly what it sounds like: The author-performer combs autobiography out of coiffure, detailing her misadventures with styling products, her resentment of co-workers with tractable locks, and her childhood envy of celebrity manes. The enriching lesson learned? Life, like an unruly hairstyle, can occasionally be difficult to manage.
It’s debatable whether John Augustine’s sitcom-inflected farce Death by Chocolate is an exercise in misogyny or crotchety angst—either way, it’s deadly theater. Through his mouthpiece, a neurotic widow (her husband choked on a bonbon), Augustine spits bile at supposed signs of civilization’s decline: saggy jeans, political correctness, Facebook “friends.” As cheap gibes accumulate, the rickety genre machine shudders into gear: Doors slam; wacky bit players shunt in and out; the murderous candy box returns, cuing a cutesy ending.
Neil LaBute’s A Second of Pleasure provides respite. Torquing expectations, the morality playlet skews a love triangle: A couple squabbling on a train platform turns out to be a wife abandoning her lover for her husband.
With The Eternal Anniversary, the evening ends on a note of pseudo-Gothic camp. In this micro-musical by Skip Kennon and Bill Connington, a penitent wife-killer prepares a sumptuous feast for his spouse’s ghost. The pair croons culinary doggerel en route to a loopy liebestod—Edgar Allan Poe meets Andrew Lloyd Webber—that collapses under its own bathos like a mistimed soufflé.
By turns cloying and curdled, Summer Shorts’ sampler plate leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.