If this seemingly endless presidential election has left you in need of laughs, vote “Shorts Gone Wild 4: Decision 2016.”
The fourth installment of the LGBT-themed short play festival by City Theatre and Island City Stage is giddy and energetic, performed with a loose, easy energy and a little friendly audience participation. The eight plays — written by seven playwrights and performed by six actors — are light, snappy, funny, sometimes gleefully risque. But be warned: They’re not all exactly 100 percent nonpartisan. All candidates and points of view are fair game, but the material (and the audience, for that matter) tends to skew left.
Still, the works are a welcome breath of fresh air if you despair about the state of American political discourse in 2016 — and who doesn’t? Some set-ups are painfully real: Who hasn’t felt the strain of an awkward dinner with combative friends on both sides of the political divide, the fate of two couples in Michael McKeever’s astute “Things My Grandfather Taught Me”? In the engaging “Jenny & Simone,” Christopher Demos-Brown takes the idea a step further: Can you still be wildly attracted to someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum?
McKeever, author of the Carbonell-winning “Daniel’s Husband,” also offers up the confessional “Dear GOP,” in which a voter once charmed by the glamor of the Reagan administration ruefully breaks up with his party. Michael Aman’s “The Incident in the Bathroom,” which opens with a brief video and takes place in a North Carolina library restroom, pays off spectacularly, as does Michael Leeds’ “The Lie,” in which a country music star plagued by young up-and-comers wonders if coming out will improve her fortunes (and those of her husband, whose political aspirations are also waning in the face of younger competition). Big laughs come, too, with Stuart Meltzer’s hilarious “Lips Like Crocus,” in which a therapist tries to unravel the secret behind a man’s obsessive sexual attachment to a well-known MSNBC figure.
Susan Westfall’s farcical “Be the Change” and Jessica Farr’s satiric “Bernie Singles Dot Com” veer happily over the top. In the former, a straight husband and wife wander into a gay restaurant/sports bar/possible S&M club and consider changing their tired routine; in the latter, a website salesman pitches the (appalling) virtues of settling for a future that’s not even close to what you want.
The performers — Lawrence Buzzeo, Christina Groom, Rita Joe, Noah Levine, Gladys Ramirez and Dominic Smith — are all lively and engaging, dancing while they change the simple sets, a terrific ensemble for this material. Directed by John Manzelli, Gail S. Garrisan, Michael Leeds, Margaret Ledford and Andy Rogow, the plays and the laughs you get from them almost make up for the political battles you’ve endured on Facebook and Twitter, the hours you’ve lost fuming at TV talking heads and the fears of how the world as we know it will end if your candidate doesn’t win. November’s still three months away. May as well keep laughing.