NEW YORK (AP) — With perfect timing to brighten winter doldrums comes a revival of David Ives' hilarious six-pack of one-act plays, "All In the Timing."
The comical, witty and very well-acted production by Primary Stages opened Tuesday night at 59E59 Theaters. It's a 20th anniversary celebration for the plays in New York as well as for Primary Stages, who produced them off-Broadway in 1993 where they ran for more than 600 performances.
Ives, most recently known for his Tony Award-nominated play "Venus in Fur," displays a gentle, wacky sense of fun that overlays his dazzling skill with wordplay in "All In The Timing." Skillfully directed by John Rando with a keen eye for creating humor with every little detail, the hardworking cast of five races from one loopy scenario to the next.
The opening vignette, "Sure Thing", features Carson Elrod and Liv Rooth as two apparently single people meeting in a cafe. His attempts to pick her up occur with repetitive conversational bursts that stop and rewind a little bit each time he hits a dead end, replaying with increasing speed. Ives has mastered dozens of comical ways a pick-up attempt can flame out, and while Rooth's character has heard it all before, Elrod's determination to get to a "yes" lends poignancy to the humor.
In "Words, Words, Words," three trapped laboratory monkeys in colorful human costumes are being forced to type until they create "Hamlet." Elrod, Rooth and Matthew Saldivar each put a different and engaging spin on their simian enactments. Squatting on their perches, they spout unexpected bits of literary philosophy, then revert to hooting and bouncing up and down in comically ape-like excitement.
Ives' clever wordsmithing is profoundly on display in "The Universal Language", where a timid, stuttering woman, (Jenn Harris), visits the nutty instructor (Elrod) of a class in the artificial language he calls Unamunda. Ives inventively mixes gobbledygook with almost understandable syllables, like "Johncleese" for "English" and "tonguestoppard" for "stutter." Harris' character somehow intuits Unamunda and quickly becomes fluent, losing her tonguestoppard while the laughs and puns fly.
You don't need to be familiar with Philip Glass to get the humor in "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread." The whole cast joins in the marching, miming and atonal chanting, as the purchase of a loaf of bread rises to epic stature. Quite literally; Eric Clem presides above the scene as the all-important Uberbaker.
"The Philadelphia" takes you to a place where American cities are personified by various difficulties. A New Yorker (Elrod) finds himself "metaphysically in a Philadelphia." Aided by the advice of his savvy pal (Saldivar), he has to learn to ask for the opposite of what he wants, because when you're "in a Philadelphia" you can't get anything that you directly ask for. Typical of the truisms Ives slips into his zany scenarios, Elrod's character muses, "I've spent so much of my life asking for the wrong thing without knowing it, doing it on purpose comes easy."
The final segment is a repetitive sight gag of Leon Trotsky (Saldivar) walking around with a pickax stuck in his head. The hopefulness that Trotsky feels in finding himself still alive is, of course, not going to last. Among the bright memories the audience will take away are vivid images of marching bakers and bouncing chimpanzees, and the brilliant humor of David Ives.