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Monday, December 29, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 21.0° F  Fair
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Comic and touching, one-acts of StageQ's Queer Shorts 5 look at the human condition
Nathan Figueroa and Eric Theis in 'Here Boy!,' one of <i>Queer Shorts 5</i>'s 11 brief plays.
Nathan Figueroa and Eric Theis in 'Here Boy!,' one of Queer Shorts 5's 11 brief plays.
Credit:Steve Noll

Queer Shorts 5, this year's installment of short plays from StageQ, includes some greatest hits from the previous four productions, as well as new works. The 11 one-acts are variously silly, poignant, sexy, funny and insightful.

Several were excellent and left me wanting more. The night opened with "Sacred Vows," in which two former college roommates have promised to get together every year. When Elisa (Christine Esche) casually reveals that she's dabbled in a little hot lesbian action with an alcohol-fueled one night stand, she elicits a complex response from her lesbian friend Ainsley (the excellent, no-nonsense Leonie Dolch). Linda Suzuki's writing is smart, and she shows a keen ear for dialogue as the friends exchange witty banter.

My favorite short of the night, "When Oprah Says Goodbye," is set in a nursing home. It made me laugh and brush a few tears away, a pretty significant feat for such a brief play. Dan Berkowitz has written fully formed characters who are beautifully played by the actresses and well-directed by Laurie Attea. Sarah Newport as the tart-tongued and stubborn Rose is a marvel, especially as she bossily outlines her rules for afternoon TV viewing. Sarah Whelan as Rose's new roommate is vulnerable and sweet, and in a small role as a doctor, Jane Schneider hits the right notes.

Thomas Misuraca wrote the truly funny play "The Diary." His premise -- a mom reels in horror when she discovers her gay son's diary, but not for the reasons you might assume -- felt fresh and clever. I've never laughed so hard about the rules of grammar. Kelly Fitzgerald is a riot as the sanctimonious mom, and Nathan Figueroa is good as the mortified son.

Other plays ranged from a campy sex romp ("Mine or Yours") to a touching look at grief ("Welcome to the Silver Moon Supper Club & Piano Bar"), and two provided thought-provoking commentary on our state's ban on gay marriages ("Bonnie & Claudia's Attempted Toaster Oven Heist" and "The Happy Couple"). Other topics covered include the impact of the crappy economy, dog walking, elaborate breakup maneuvers and the dangers of hiking, but as my date pointed out, the evening really is a look at the human condition.

A few of the performances felt a bit stilted, but the large cast is committed and energetic. Some actors, like Donnovan Moen, showcased their range in multiple roles. Here and there I felt that the writing could have been tightened up, but both the writers and the directors should be commended for putting together an entertaining production. The show moves at a fairly quick clip, and while I didn't love all the plays, there was something good about each one, whether it was snappy writing, an inspired performance or a surprise twist.

This year's crowd-pleasing show is on the Bartell Theatre's smaller Evjue stage, so there are fewer seats available. This weekend's performances are already sold out, but tickets are available for next week.

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