What a difference a year makes.
The sophomore staging – a partnership between Broward’s Island City Stage and Miami-Dade’s City Theatre – seems to have gathered eight 10-minute playlets that collectively reach for something deeper and more universal than the gay-riffic freshman production.
There is no howl of protest here. Nor is there the birthing pains of coming-out tales. This is next-level stuff over the course of a two-hour performance (including a 15-minute intermission). Mixed in with the warm humor are twinges of melancholy and even regret that manages to evince something more real, even when the evening sometimes takes clumsy, bumbling turns.
That unwieldiness is understandable with a local repertory troupe of six actors taking on multiple roles written by seven playwrights under the helm of four directors.
“The Emperor Is Naked” opens the show. It’s about a much-delayed staging of the Hans Christian Andersen story where the dramatus interruptus is punctuated by eye-opening nudity reduced to a PG-rating by a succession of well-placed props.
From there the order is determined by audience members choosing from a hat. The out-and-out funniest is “Lion in a Bear Bar,” where The Cowardly Lion confronts his lover (“My kitten”) in a gay bar deliciously called The Leather Munchkin.
Two feel inventive: “Glamping,” where a heterosexual couple brush up to the complexities of one of them having a homosexual relationship in the past; and “I Alone,” in which a high school reunion takes on another dimension with two former friends awkwardly brush against transgender issues via alter egos.
“Game On” seems to be heading toward a sweet take on dating via hook-up apps, but then takes an unexpected turn toward self-hatred. “I see two therapists,” admit one of the characters. “Sarah Stein Sends A Selfie” also heads one way before taking an off-ramp toward an even more interesting destination with a bride and her bridesmaid: “Don’t think for one moment this changes what we both know is the truth,” says the bestie.
In “A Bump Between Friends” a bisexual woman learns her friend is pregnant by her former boyfriend. And “The Last Time I Saw Bathhouse Betty” takes place at Bette Midler’s last concert at the storied Continental Baths in the early 1970s.
Not every single piece is fully baked. But in the balance, “Shorts Gone Wild 2” has a nice payoff: the franchise has evolved from "LGBT" to something more all-encompassing like "progressive."
“Shorts Gone Wild 2” runs through Sept. 7 at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale. 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets $30. Contact: 954-519-2533 or IslandCityStage.org.
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