Last night at the Caldwell Theatre in Boca, Miami’s Naked Stage hosted its annual “24 Hour Theatre Project” fundraiser, a yearly treat in which dozens of South Florida’s theatrical luminaries put aside grievances and band together to write, direct and star in eight brand-new short plays to be performed before a live audience of their peers over the span of one sleepless day. Considering that the playwrights had nothing to go on save a wacky title when they began the process at 7 p.m. Sunday, the results were astonishing — a testament to the boundless strength and creativity of our theater community. Many of the plays were as consistently hilarious as the funniest entries in City Theatre’s Summer Shorts, which is saying a lot considering Summer Shorts’ limitless writing time and weeks of rehearsals.
The shows were peppered with inside jokes only die-hard SoFla theater people would get, many coming at the expense of writers and directors (playwright Michael McKeever gets the wittiest rubbing, his physique compared to that of a Greek god in the mini festival’s closing short). A few of these plays are not exportable to a mass audience for this very reason, but who cares? Sometimes theater needs to celebrate, and mock, itself.
For the most part, the plays were acted and directed with smoothness and polish, but gaffes were a welcome inevitability for an event like this, and many proved to be funnier than the scripted material, as when Stephen G. Anthony, playing a palsy-suffering actor in Tony Finstrom’s “Henry VIII’s Mail Order Bride,” spit up a wad of saliva on his shirt and barely kept a straight face in turn.
Overall, it was a night of a thousand yuks, with only one play – Christopher Demos-Brown’s tragic story of acceptance and death, “A Storybook Funeral” – that could accurately be called a drama. Elsewhere, the comic highlights included David Michael Sirois’ “Amputease,” about the couples therapy session of a handless woman and her legless spouse (Amy Miller Brennan and Shane Tanner); McKeever’s “OMG …¦ ROTFLMAO,” arguably the production’s biggest audience pleaser, featuring Florida Stage Managing Director Nancy Barnett trying to come to terms with her best friend’s language of insufferable Internet abbreviations; and Juan C. Sanchez’s “Armed and Hammered,” a screwball comedy about the agitated heirs of a hammer-producing magnate, all of whose left arms have become dead weight due to genetic disorder.
Only two of the plays – Andie Arthur’s “A Rebel’s Guide to (Utter) Compliance” and Lucas Leyva’s “Fardel’s Bear” tended to drag a bit, though both had plenty going for them, whether it’s the prior’s political commentary or the latter’s revisionist take on Japanese noh theater.
The evening’s most memorable show-stopper was, without a doubt, Andrew Rosendorf’s “Dinner With Dracula,” a pitch-perfect absurdist theater piece with the titular Count (Christopher A. Kent) reborn as an effeminate, guitar-strumming Hispanic who lures naive women to his Transylvania lair through – what else? – Facebook. Carbonell Award winner Lela Elam appears only from the shoulders up, literally chewing the scenery when she emerges from a bed of lettuce. She plays herself in this pivotal part, resulting in one of the cleverest self-conscious meta performance I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to believe something this inventive didn’t exist 24 hours earlier.