Here’s a little theatrical brain-teaser: What do Hamlet, Trotsky, Philip Glass and Philadelphia have in common? And the answer is…. They all pop up in “All in the Timing,” a supremely witty, literate series of playlets by David Ives. They don’t appear together in the same vignette, but each makes for a hilariously clever reference. Here’s how it goes. Three chimps are typing away, trying to create ‘Hamlet’; Trotsky totters around with an axe sticking out of his head; Philip Glass takes 15 minutes and a zillion tuneless, minimalist iterations to buy a loaf of bread. And Philadelphia is a very unfortunate, cheese-steak state of mind.
In insensitive hands, this high-brow comedy could become decidedly low-brow, veering toward the silly and slapstick. Ives certainly builds plenty of physical comedy into his amusingly erudite work. But as co-directors, ion theatre co-founders Claudio Raygoza and Glenn Paris strike just the right note, so the plays can be appreciated at many different levels, even if you don’t catch all his literary references or appreciate all the linguistic legerdemain.
Ives is a Yale Drama School graduate, and though this is his best-known work by far, he’s been writing plays and musicals and adaptations and even children’s books, ever since these one-acts premiered in a small New York theater in 1993 and went on to win an Outer Critics Circle Award. He used to write for the smart, funny ‘Spy Magazine,’ and New York Magazine once named him one of the “100 Smartest New Yorkers.”
In the unremittingly clever “All in the Timing,” there are six short pieces. One of my favorites is “Words, Words, Words” (a quote from “Hamlet”). It’s a riotous riff on the “Infinite Monkey Theorem” that posits that, given enough time, a typing chimpanzee could create a Shakespearean masterpiece. So Ives puts three wildly verbal monkeys in a room – by the names, and with the literary styles of — Milton, Swift and Kafka. If you know something about those writers, and about “Hamlet,” you’ll laugh yourself silly. But if not, you can still split your sides just watching these propeller-wearing, masturbating, banana-eating apes trying to figure out what a ‘Hamlet’ is, as they critique the ridiculous phrases each of them randomly types.
It’s all very sly, clever social commentary — about science, about communication and socialization, and in another of my personal favorites, “The Universal Language,” about the failed 19th century creation of Esperanto. Unamunda is a lot funnier… and it’s impossible to listen to it for 15 minutes and not start using its crazy patchwork of battered English (the language Ives calls ‘johncleese’). You might just start greeting folks with “Velcro, Harvardyu?” (‘Welcome. Howa re you?’).The segment is a kind of inspired, loopy bilingualism, and it’s amazing how fast you begin to understand this linguistic lunacy.
Ion theatre certainly gets it. They did a short run of the Ives work last summer, and it was so well received, they refurbished the cabaret-like subterranean venue at the 6th Avenue Bistro downtown, which serves drinks and food to the audience, and re-mounted the piece with the same cast, for an open-ended run. As their publicity-meister puts it, the show is “the thinking man’s ‘Triple Espresso.’”
The cast is a hoot: four talented, malleable, endlessly amusing actors who’ve performed at many local theaters: Laura Bozanich, Andrew Kennedy, Jonathan Sachs and Kim Strassburger. Though I’ve now seen the show three or four times, at different venues, I still laugh out loud, and I get a little something new out of it every time. And Off Corset and Oh, my Galosh! Unamunda is eedgie to learn. Eggsovereedgie…. Et cinema, et cinema.
The ion theatre production of “All in the Timing“ continues an open-ended run at the 6th Avenue Bistro downtown.
©2007 Patté Productions, Inc.