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Live Active Cultures

If there's a theme running through this year's Summer Shorts presented by Playwrights' Round Table, it's communication breakdown

The Czar's Man
(Written by Gregg Kreutz; directed by Avis-Marie Barnes) Five Russian revolutionaries (Mark Davids, David Goldstone, Jim McClellan, Daniel Oser, Bill Warriner) are caged in a cell, awaiting execution at the hands of their comrades. One among them is a traitor to their cause, and their only chance for reprieve is to out the infiltrator. When no one volunteers to sacrifice himself, the condemned start a surreal game of "shortest straw" to select a scapegoat. Uneven accents make the tone a little lighter than I'd like, but this piece has the potential to be a perfect pocket-sized take on The Usual Suspects, complete with a Verbal Kint-worthy conclusion.

A Table for Two
(Written by Molly Campbell; directed by Jennifer Rea) When Diane (Cynthia McClendon) and Warren (John Moughan) go shopping for a wedding present for their youngest daughter, a simple kitchenette table sparks nostalgic reminiscences about their bohemian days. The success of this sort of sweetly sentimental scene depends on an emotional connection between the actors and the first half of this short was slow going, with a noticeable lack of eye contact between the performers. Thankfully, by the end they both loosened up, eventually exuding a genuine warmth that made me empathize with these empty-nesters.

Showing Your Hand
(Written by Stephen J. Miller; directed by Kristen Dewey) First dates are always awkward. When painfully shy online poker enthusiasts Travis (Brian Groth) and Alison (Jenny Ornstein) finally meet in the flesh, the chances of them ending up happily ever after are already infinitesimal. But add in the fact that both are beset by psychotic voices that berate them through hand puppets, and the odds of failure become epic – or do they? Saving the best for last, this inspired skit benefits from breathlessly paced patter broken by hilariously uncomfortable silences, and a leading lady as goofily adorable as any Deschanel.

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