by Louise, Director of Operations
The new production of All in the Timing, a collection of short plays by David Ives (also the playwright of the recent Broadway hit Venus in Fur) just officially opened at Primary Stages on Tuesday. This is a 20th anniversary production – the collection first premiered in the fall of 1993. I remember going to see it then with my family, and even though I now realize that I probably was too young for the vast majority of the jokes, I have very fond memories of seeing it (over and over again) and we have been quoting it on a regular basis for the past two decades.
These six short plays share common themes: timing (as implied by the name), language and communication. In my favorite of the plays, The Universal Language, an entirely new language (called Unamunda) is spoken by the characters, consisting mostly of onomatopoeia and re-purposed words. Even though it’s essentially gibberish, you can understand pretty much everything the characters are saying anyway, if you’re not laughing too hard to listen. I can also pretty much guarantee that something from this play will find its way into your regular vocabulary. I’ve been saying “off corset” for “of course” and “corngranulations” for “congratulations” for most of my life without even remembering that they were Unamunda.
The other two plays in the first half of the show focus on language as well. In Sure Thing, a man and woman meet and re-start or move a few lines back in their conversation over and over again until they are headed in the right direction (the right direction being love, of course), as though life were a video game where you had infinite chances to get it right. And wouldn’t that be nice? In Words, Words, Words, three monkeys are unwillingly taking part in an experiment at Columbia University with the hypothesis that if they are left alone with typewriters they will eventually produce Hamlet purely by chance. In Ives’s particular version of reality, the monkeys are well aware of what they are expected to do (although they don’t know what Halmet is, which is somewhat of a stumbling block) and have a lengthy (amazing, philosophical, hilarious) discussion about their circumstances.
The plays of the second act are (to my mind, anyway) more existential. Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread is basically just that, and I don’t know how else to describe it to you except to say its completely surreal and even if you don’t know who Philip Glass is, you will still laugh. The second play, Philadelphia, suggests that how your day is going speaks to a metaphysical location – in this case, the main character, while physically in New York City, has woken up “in a Philadelphia” which turns out to mean that he can’t get anything he wants (no real offense intended to Philly, I’m sure). In the final play of the evening, Variations on the Death of Trotsky, Leon Trotsky has a chance to reflect on his own death before it happens. While this play has a healthy dose of silliness, like all the others, it also has the most serious tone, including the haunting line spoken by Trotsky when he accepts that August 21st is the day he is going to die: “And to think I’ve gone over so many August 21st’s in my life, like a man walking over his own grave.” Gives you shivers, doesn’t it?
The cast of this new production is so wonderful and tirelessly energetic that by the end of the play I was tearing up just from their sheer joy at performing it. Carson Elrod (who was performing in another show while rehearsing for this one which just blows my mind) is particularly amazing; he appears in 5 of the 6 plays, transitioning quickly and brilliantly from character to character and hitting every note in exactly the way I would have wished him to as a (nearly) lifelong lover of these plays. Matthew Saldivar, Liv Rooth, Jenn Harris, and Eric Clem make up the rest of the ensemble, and every one of them is phenomenal. It’s always such a delight to see a group of actors meshing together so perfectly and really seem to be having a wonderful time. Even on the transitions between plays the actors are on stage, bringing us through the transitions in character. Every moment is absolutely delightful.
Right now All in the Timing is scheduled to run only through March 17th, though I hope it is eligible to be extended. I don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t find his or herself gasping with laughter at every play. You need to go. YOU. Need. To. Go. I mean it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to plan a trip including tickets!