David Ives' All in the Timing is a collection of 6 short plays that comprise a funny and raucous evening of theatre. They are presented in the following order.
SURE THING takes place in a cafe in Manhattan. Betty sits quietly reading Faulkner when Bill approaches and asks if he can take the empty seat next to her. A deli bell dings from off stage, and their personalities and intentions suddenly change. They become angry, loving, find themselves in total disagreement, only to agree again. As the bell dings build so does the ridiculousness of their situation. It seems to me Ives is exploring the absurdity of human relationships, assumptions and how easily we misinterpret each other, and how in matters of the heart we hear only what we want to hear.
WORDS, WORDS, WORDS - 3 lab chimps named Milton, Swift and Kafka sit at typewriters trying to accidently write Hamlet. They question the meaning of their existence and why human science is subjecting them to the indignity of these experiments. When their only reward is peanuts and cigarettes. The arrogance of the human animal becomes quite clear through how they treat lesser, but ultimately equal primates. We see that maybe advanced intelligence such as metaphor and poetry aren’t any great gift to us, but a happy accident of evolution.
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE DAWN, a shy nerdy girl with a stutter is taking a night class in Unamunda, a language that someday will unite the whole world. Don is the professor who invented the language, or at least that’s what we’re lead to believe. He soon finds Dawn an eager and good student. When Don confesses that he’s a fraud, it does not matter. This is a love story and falling in love is a communication between two hearts; one can connect even with gibberish.
PHILIP GLASS BUYS A LOAF OF BREAD is the first play after the intermission, and my favorite of the batch. It is exactly as the title suggests. Using a spoken version of harmony and counterpoint, Ives shows us what Glassian music might be like with the spoken word. The piece is fun to watch, not only for the language, but the fantastic job the director does with the actors. Criss-crossing the stage, bobbing like pistons, and birthing endless loaves of bread, the performances are tight and sharp.
THE PHILADELPHIA. A play about time warps, where one finds onesself in certain states (or cities in this case) of mind. In a Philadelphia for instance, everything is opposite of what you think it is. If you want white you ask for black. Different than a Cleveland “Which is like death without the benefits”. This was the lightest and silliest of the plays. We learn from Mr. Ives that when seducing a woman it’s best to say opposite of what you really mean. Because that’s what women do for sure.
The evening closed with VARIATIONS ON THE DEATH OF TROTSKY. In what has to be one of the most absurd, and hilarious sight gags (no I’m not going to tell you) we find the great revolutionary sitting at his desk in Coyoacan, Mexico. Trotsky seems to be in his own time warp, a favorite device of Ives. It’s the day after his murder, yet he laments on about future historical events that might be worthy of his political ideas. His wife is reading to him from the encyclopedia (“a tool of the victors”) and he relives the moment of his death, over and over. They try to speculate why the gardener, Ramon, a rabid communist, would have killed Trotsky. Was it his revolutionary ideas? Was it a jealous love triangle with his wife? In the end death is still death, and in an evening of the absurd the play ends on a somber and touching note. The large Henri Rousseau painting “Tiger Surprised” is a great metaphor for Trotsky and his untimely and shocking murder.
Carson Elrod, Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, Jenn Harris, and Eric Clem play all the parts and their energy as ensemble is palpable. They’re having a lot of fun on stage and we get pulled right in. Kudos to Liv Rooth for her terrific chimping, Jenn Harris as the geeky and loveable Dawn, Matthew Saldivar for his pathos as Trotsky, Carson Elrod’s physical adeptness as Don, the professor and Eric Clem as a bread-birthing giant.
The play is expertly directed by John Rando. Rando is able to pace each play differently, yet rhythmically tie the whole evening together. As the title suggests in this type of comedy, timing makes it or breaks it. Rando keeps everything seamless and smooth.
Set design by Beowulf Boritt is colorful, and cartoon like. It accentuates the silly and playfulness of Ives world. Tom Watson's hair and wigs are amazing. As good as anything you’d see in a movie. From Trotsky’s moustache and goatee, to Philip Glass’s wave of black hair. Anita Yavich designs the costumes, and like the set they compliment the text perfectly.
Primary Stages, a staple of New York Off-Broadway theatre, has done a great job with this revival. They produced the play originally and 20 years later have kept it as vibrant, enthusiastic, and fun as it’s first incarnation.