NEW YORK—If you want to have loads of laughs and ponder ideas at the same time, David Ives’s compilation of six terse one-acts under the heading of “All in the Timing” is the show for you. Ives is arguably the wittiest or, most definitely, one of the wittiest playwrights around today.
This production marks the show’s 20th anniversary. It is produced again by Primary Stages as it was in 1993 when it played for more than 600 performances. Later successes for Ives include his last season’s Tony-nominated “Venus in Fur,” as well as numerous adaptations for the “Encores!” series.
Language is Ives’s most powerful weapon. In “Sure Thing,” a young couple, strangers to each other, happen to sit at the same table in a crowded café. Each time Bill’s (Carson Elrod) faltering efforts to impress Betty (Liv Rooth) meet with failure, a bell sounds (as per Pavlov’s experiments?). Bill revises his approach and ultimately hits the right note—but not before some ridiculous exchanges take place.
In “Words, Words, Words,” three chimps in a university lab are assigned to create “Hamlet” on individual typewriters. As they alternate between grooming each other and “writing,” we see a mélange of animal and human behavior. Swift (Elrod), called Swifty by colleague Milton (Matthew Saldivar), and Kafka (Liv Rooth), who stutters “kkkkkk,” often utter snippets of Shakespearean lines.
In “The Universal Language,” a seeming professor, Don (Elrod, who exhibits astonishing physical skill in rising from near falls in a mini-second) tries to convince potential applicant Dawn (Jenn Harris) to enroll in his course of Unamunda (one world?). It all seems like gibberish at first, but with the right tone and rhythm, even the audience gets it, as ultimately does Dawn. “Velcro!” is obviously Welcome, right?
Set in a bakery, “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” is visually stunning, with four white-clad participants. One, an ominously tall uberbaker (Eric Clem) on stilts, demonstrates with highly disciplined and repetitive movements and words, similar aspects in Glass’s musical works. (According to a Wall Street Journal article of Feb. 3, 2013, Ives is “a long time fan of the composer’s music.”) Glass himself is portrayed by Carson Elrod.
In a New York diner, Mark (Elrod) pours forth his recent extreme frustration to buddy Al (Saldivar): Nothing Mark has done all day has gone right. Al surmises that Mark’s in “a Philadelphia,” in the play titled “The Philadelphia.”
Al comforts Mark, in effect saying, “You think you’ve got a problem; look at the people who actually live in Philadelphia.” The unflappable waitress (delightfully cynical Jenn Harris) chimes in, offering that she was once in “a Cleveland.” Nothing could be worse. (The viewer could readily insert his own town into the formula, if he wishes.)
“Variations on the Death of Trotsky” takes place in Trotsky’s study in Mexico, where an ominous calendar is posted: August 21, 1940, the date of his death at the hands of an assassin. Mrs. Trotsky (Rooth) points out to her husband (Saldivar) that he has a hatchet inserted into his head. Trotsky, amazed, hadn’t realized it.
The two discuss at length the difference between a hatchet and an ice pick; Trotsky thought it would have been the latter. Assassin Ramon (Eric Clem) comes on the scene to complicate matters.
In fact, Trotsky had taken an entire day to die after the attack, so why not invent these conversations?
The delicious evening was directed by John Rando, who has worked on several Ives projects in the past. The company of actors is superb, with special kudos going to aforementioned Carson Elrod, who is one of the finest physical comedians I have ever witnessed.
The light-hearted and appropriate sets by Beowulf Boritt, likewise costumes by Anita Yavich, add to the entertaining mix.
”All in the Timing”
59 East 59th Street
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Tickets: 212-279-4200 or visit www.primarystages.org
Closes: April 14
Diana Barth writes and publishes “New Millennium,” an arts publication. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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