“All in the Timing” highlights David Ives’ very witty spoofs

By Lucy Komisar

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.

Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, Eric Clem, Carson Elrod and Jenn Harris, photo James Leynse.

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.

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.

Liv Rooth as Mrs. Trotsky, Eric Clem as Ramon and Matthew Saldivar as Trotsky, photo James Leynse.

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 Coyoac¡n 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 Coyoac¡n, are there?”

Liv Rooth as Betty and Carson Elrod as Bill, photo 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.

“All in the Timing.” Written by David Ives; directed by John Rando. Primary Stages at 59E59 Street, New York City. 212-279-4200. Opened Feb 12, 2013; closes April 14, 2013. 3/17/13. Review on New York Theatre-Wire.


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