Fast-Paced Production of Ives Play Almost a Sure Thing
All In the Timing by David Ives directed by Jeremy McCarter '98 and Adam Stein '99 at the Loeb Ex February 21-22
David Ives's All in the Timing is a fast-paced comic slap in the face. Ives's collection of highly original skits--on topics as assorted as the death of Leon Trotsky and the plays of David Mamet--makes one realize just how predictable and sappy most modern comedy is. Even when writing about a commonplace subject like a couple's first meeting in a cafe, Ives maintains a hilarious, cleverly crafted style, free of cliches. Happily, first-time directors Jeremy McCarter '98, who is a Crimson editor, and Adam Stein '99 brought Ives's hilarity to life last weekend at the Loeb Ex, and they didn't miss a beat.
The first of the vignettes featured the two best performances in the play. "Sure Thing" tracks all the possible turns and twists a conversation between a man and a woman can take. Every time the two strangers, Bill (Scott Brown '98) and Betty (Jessica Jackson '98), complete an awkward bit of conversation, a bell rings. Instantly, they find themselves thrown back a moment in time--only to try the interaction again.
For example, Betty tells Bill she has a "sort-of boyfriend." Bill, reasonably enough, asks, "What's a sort-of boyfriend?" to which she promptly responds, "We were meeting here to break up." And the bell rings. Then, the alternate version: "What's sort of boyfriend?"--"My lover. Here she comes right now!"--and again the bell rings.
Such fast-paced exchange made good use of the actors' perfect comic timing. At one point, the two even changed personalities as they make conflicting attempts to further, or avoid, the conversation.
The humor in the second skit, "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," is much more blatant. Like "Sure Thing," "Trotsky" offers numerous interpretations of the same scene: in this case, the moments before Trotsky's death. Throughout the skit, Trotsky (John Driscoll '99) has a mountain climber's ax sticking out of his skull, although he doesn't realize until Mrs. Trotsky (Elena Schneider '99) points it out. Although "Variations on the Death of Trotsky" isn't as witty or keenly observant as "Sure Thing," it's hard to resist lines like "maybe he was just hot-to-Trotsky." Driscoll was appropriately ridiculous and Schneider hilarious as the wise-cracking wife.
Steering the night's entertainment into the realm of parody, "Speed-the-Play" skewers the theater of David Mamet. This skit contains miniature versions of four Mamet plays: "American Buffalo," "Speed-the-Plow," "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" and "Glengarry Glen Ross."
A jovial team of actors runs through the plays at a frantic pace, boiling Mamet's scenes down to a few strategic lines. The actors' own smiles were evident even when they were supposed to be portraying Mamet's rage and angst. As a result, at least one joke--the excessive use of expletives in Mamet's plays--lost its bite. Nonetheless, "Speed-the-Play," as written, works as a mordantly funny critique of over-the-top postmodern theater.
The last segment, "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," involves word play of a different sort. It is essentially a musical number in which a moment of time is stopped: the same words and phrases are repeated in ethereal rhythms characteristic of Glass's music.
The four players--Glass (John Simpson '99), two women who recognize him (Gilli Bar-Hillel and Emily von Kohorn '00) and the baker (Driscoll)--engage in this bizarre incantation, and the results are surprisingly effective and funny as a parody of Glass's music.
A serious disappointment of the show was its length: the four skits add up to barely an hour's worth of entertainment. The original All in the Timing consisted of six one-act comedies. McCarter and Stein showed that they could transfer Ives's pointed and poetic wit to the stage. But they should have attempted to present more skits from the collection. Fortunately, the four skits they chose provided a well-acted and entertaining exercise for the mind.