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"All in the Timing" Highlights David Ives’ Very Witty Spoofs
By Lucy Komisar
"All in the Timing"
Written by David Ives;
Directed by John Rando.
Primary Stages at 59E59 Street, New York City.
Opened Feb 12, 2013; closes April 14, 2013.
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar Feb 15, 2013.
L-R: Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, Eric Clem, Carson Elrod and Jenn Harris. Photo by James Leynse.
David Ives is a master of subtle intellectual comedy. We saw that most recently in "Venus in Fur," a feminist reimagining/twisting of the Sacher-Masoch classic, and a few years back in "Is He Dead?," adapted from a Mark Twain story about an artist who fakes death to elevate the price of his paintings. But earlier, he had written a series of one-acts that were presented twenty years ago and that we are lucky to see again. John Rando’s direction is spot-on, letting no grass grow between the laughs. The actors are an ensemble and connect as if they were used to finishing each other’s sentences.
My favorite, as brilliant in its way as the artist he spoofs, "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread" reduces "witty" and "clever" and "imaginative" to pale imitations of the adjectives one would like to use.
The dialogue is divided as if it were orchestrated. Indeed, if you look at the script, you will see four columns representing characters saying words and phrases that are distinct, as if each were a different instrument. Which is how they sound. A deconstruction of Philip Glass arriving to purchase a loaf of bread.
First woman (Liv Rooth): Isn’t that.
Second woman (Jenn Harris): Think it is.
Baker (Matthew Saldivar): Help you sir?
Glass (Carson Elrod): Yes, I need.
L-R: Liv Rooth as Mrs. Trotsky, Eric Clem as Ramon and Matthew Saldivar as Trotsky. Photo by James Leynse.
And it repeats. At a certain point Glass interjects: "loaf of bread." And everything is repeated, as Glass of course would do.
There’s also some parody swimming though a wavy blue cloth and a surreal giant baguette. You have to be there.
My other favorite was "Variations on the death of Trotsky," which is wonderful first because, who in the current political atmosphere is allowed to profess interest in Trotsky, and second because it is so absurd.
It is August 21, 1940. A guy sporting a short beard and wearing a brown suit and vest proclaims that, "The proletariat is right…. The proletariat must always be right… And the revolution of the proletariat against oppression… must go on … forever!" It is Leon Trotsky (Saldivar), who unfortunately has an axe protruding from his skull. He is in the Coyoacán suburb of Mexico City and he has the day before been attacked by a Spanish Communist disguised as a gardener (Eric Clem). Ramon of course has a serape, straw hat, huaraches and a black moustache.
Trotsky seems unaware of what has transpired. However, his wife (Rooth) reads about it in an encyclopedia. Trotsky asks: "And this is 1940 right now?" She says yes. "And we have a Spanish gardener named Ramon?" She says yes. "Hmm…. There aren’t any other Trotsky’s living in Coyoacán, are there?"
L-R: Liv Rooth as Betty and Carson Elrod as Bill. Photo by James Leynse.
Did you ever wish you could take back a remark you made? "Sure Thing" deals with a man and woman who meet by chance at a café and redo each line in their conversation when the particular line doesn’t work. I might retitle it "How to chat up a woman."
Where did he go to college? Bill says "Oral Roberts." Betty frowns. A bell rings. He gets another chance. He says Harvard.
I wasn’t as interested in the other three plays. "Words, Words, Words" is a take-off on the professor who said that if some monkeys typed into infinity they would sooner or later produce "Hamlet." So Ives puts Milton, Swift and Kafka before us, as kids/monkeys.
In another, "The Universal Language," a young women (Jenn Harris) arrives at an office where a language guru (Carson Elrod), in black gown and mortar board, addresses her with distorted words: Sitz and Ha vard you. It’s the school of Unamundo (of course that means one world), which is a satire on Esperanto. He says, "Gavot Kennedy do for you?" After a while you can even figure it out. There’s a bit of German. Door is Isadora. Chair is cha cha cha. He even throws in Tom Stoppard. So, it’s about communication. It didn’t communicate.
"The Philadelphia" is a shaggy dog story about the city everybody likes to make fun of. In a crummy restaurant, Mark (Elrod) is hyperventilating to his friend Al (Saldivar) about how about nothing works. Al explains to him that "physically you are in New York. But metaphysically you are in a Philadelphia." He says that "in a Philadelphia, no matter what you ask for, you can’t get it."
If you’re asking for sophisticated wit, the place to be is currently 59E59 Street in New York.
Visit Lucy Komisar’s website http://thekomisarscoop.com
Madcap Love and Other Misadventures
By Glenda Frank
"All in the Timing" by David Ives.
Directed by John Rondo.
A Primary Stages Production at 59E59 Theatres.
Feb 12, 2013 - Apr 14, 2013.
Tues.- Thurs. at 7 PM; Fri.-Sat. 8 PM; Sun. 3 PM; Sat. 2 PM.
Tickets $70 at www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200.
L-R: Jenn Harris and Carson Elrod. Photo by James Leynse.
I have been teaching David Ives’ short play “Sure Thing” for over five years as a reward, a second wind for when my students are bleary eyed with studying and the semester can’t end soon enough. It’s a perennial favorite. I have been disappointed before by lackluster stagings of plays that seem so alive in the classroom. But the production of “All in the Timing,” six one-act comedies that open with “Sure Thing,” produced by Primary Stages at 59E59 Theatres, is the best ticket in town. This is the first major revival of the 20 year old plays, but they still feel fresh. As directed by John Rando, who won 2002 Tony and Outer Critics awards for “Urinetown,” the evening has more snap-crackle-pop and belly laughs than any fare I’ve seen in the last several years. It’s a joy from start to finish.
Rondo and Ives selected 6 of the 14 plays that comprise “All in the Timing” (published in 1993) to ensure both comic variety and as a showcase for their exceptional cast. (Sometimes during a production I wonder where this or that brilliant performer has been hiding. For “All in the Timing” I wondered that about all of them but especially Carson Elrod, who had been hiding in plain sight in “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Noises Off” on Broadway.)
“Sure Thing,” which has become a contemporary classic, remains my favorite. Bill (Elrod) approaches Betty (Liv Rooth) who is seated at a café. He asks if he may join her. When he asks in a way that turns her off or when either one adds a no-starter to the conversation, a bell rings off-stage. The actors have to pick it up where they left off, correcting the gaff until they finally become a couple. For instance when Bill mentions “the castrating bitch [ he] dumped last night or she talks about her lesbian lover, the bell rings frantically. The path to true love does not run smooth but it is hilarious. “Sure Thing” is a light-hearted look at why love goes off awry.
L-R: Matthew Saldivar and Carson Elrod. Photo by James Leynse.
“The Philadelphia” is an explanation for things that go wrong. Al (Matthew Saldivar) and Mark (Elrod) are eating in a diner, where the waitress brings the wrong order or tells them the items they selected are gone. Mark is bummed out but Al tells him that he’s simply in a Philadelphia – and advises him on how to navigate this bizarre world. So funny! And we’ve all been there, where nothing goes right. The play has a kicker, too, which adds another twist to the joke.
“The Universal Language” taps the improve and memory skills of the performers and proves that Ives is a master of phonic innovation. Dawn (Jenn Harris) is bored and needs a change in her life so she checks out a curious language school run by Don (Elrod). He speaks nonsense syllables to her. At first she is bewildered, but she quickly catches on and grows more and more excited. Soon the dialogue is almost all in the universal language and they both discover there is more to communication than words.
For any Robert Wilson or Philip Glass fans, “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” is dead on funny. But you don't have to know the composer or the director to delight in this short piece that showcases the cast’s physical comedy. Yes, it is set in a bakery so we get great costumes by Anita Yavich. The set design by Beowulf Boritt is genuinely innovative and comic in its own right, especially the six clocks that open the play. “Words, Words, Words “ is a parody of the Hollywood writers' factory -- with chimps named Kafka, Swift and Milton. "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," the weakest piece, is about betrayal and inevitability from a kind of Groundhog Day perspective. It’s all better than good. Don't miss this revival!
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