By Lucy Komisar
David Ives is the master of comically surreal theatrical sketch comedy. Nobody comes close. Because not only are his one-acts witty, but they play cleverly outlandish intellectual games.
John Rando, his director, collaborated in Ives‘ “All in the Timing” and “The Heir Apparent.” But you can see the same wonderfully bizarre sensibility in Rando’s direction of “Urinetown” and “The Toxic Avenger,” which weren‘t by Ives. And the cast, which performs as a smooth ensemble, is excellent.
One of Ives‘ games is to play with doubles. My favorite in this collection being staged at The Duke is The Enigma Variations.
A doctor, except there are two, Bill 1 (Arnie Burton) and Bill 2 (Rick Holmes) is/are treating a patient, Miss Doppelgängler. Except she corrects him/them: “Misses Doppelgängler, Bebe W.W. Doppelgängler.” They are Bebe 1 (Liv Rooth) and Bebe 2 (Kelly Hutchinson).
Each duo speaks and moves in tandem. The doctor(s) ask the patient(s) to expand on the problem. The women take deep breaths and expand their bodies. Bebe 1 declares, “It‘s as if, when I‘m alone in a room, I‘m somehow… not alone. As if it‘s not just me there.”
She says, “That‘s how it seems to me, to Bebe.”
Bebe 2 adds, “Or not to Bebe.”
Bebe 1 says, “I‘m desperate, Doctor. Last week I played doubles without a partner.”
Bill 1: “Did you win?”
Bebe 1: “Twice! “
Bill 1: “How did you manage that?”
Bebe 1: “Duplicity.”
You get the idea.
Turns out the problem is déj vu. Bill 2 says, “Mrs. Doppelgängler, you have a German name but a French disease!”
It‘s all Good is another absurd riff on duality. From Doppelgängler to double life.
Stephen Rivers (Holmes), a successful writer (or literary luminary as he calls himself) is traveling from New York to his hometown Chicago to give a talk.
His wife Leah (Hutchinson) wonders nervously if he is going to look up Amy, his Chicago girlfriend of years ago. When he met Amy, he‘d been in seminary studying to be a priest. He‘d left that life behind, along with the name Rivzikowski.
By chance on a commuter train to his old neighborhood, he gets into a chat with a seatmate who turns out to be named Steve Rivzikowski (Carson Elrod). He is editor of religious publications in the parish where Stephen lived.
Steve is going home to his wife Amy and kids and invites the New Yorker there. Stephen will see how his life would have turned out had he stayed. It gets a bit fraught. Think campy science fiction.
Life Signs reveals a much tougher lady who‘s had a double life, one known to her family, and the other hidden.
Helen (Hutchinson) has been pronounced dead by Dr. Binkman (Burton). He comments, “Nell Skinner had character. Member of the Colony Club, the Junior League, St. Thomas Fifth Avenue every Sunday. Gorgeous, too, in her day. A fabulous body… Now she‘s just a fabulous body.”
When son Toby (Elrod) kisses her forehead and says “Good-by,” Helen chirps, “Hello!” Suddenly the corpse remembers her life, which was full of sex. Now she‘s dead, this very proper lady speaks in risqué tones, detailing sexual exploits. It‘s a hoot.
Lives of the Saints, presents the twosome of old ladies Edna (Hutchinson) and Flo (Rooth), in house dresses and wonderfully heavy Chicago accents, who are preparing a church funeral breakfast for twelve. The running gag is, “I think it‘s enough.”
In fact, the set is empty. The spread, which we cannot see, is huge. They chatter and move around doing everything in pantomime. At one point, a backdrop opens and you see three black-clad actors doing sound effects, pouring water, squirting whipped cream.
They ladies sing “Roll out the barrel.” They tell a joke: “What does it say on the bottom of a Polish Coca Cola bottle? Open the other end. In Polish.”
They are hokey and charming. And when the doves land on their heads, you think, maybe they are saints.
Soap Opera mixes Ives‘ love of puns with his deft skewering of consumerism, especially Americans‘ infatuation with electronics.
“Welcome to…All The Days Of The World Of The Lives Of All Of Our Children. Today‘s episode: Love Machine.”
The machine and the lover are not what you‘d expect. A guy (Elrod) in a uniform, who conjures up the repairman Maytag hyped, arrives at French restaurant with a washing machine. The hokey ma®tre d‘ (Burton in a wonderful Inspector Clouseau accent) explains that in the dining room “there are no appliances, only peuple.”
Flashback. We discover how the repairman fell in love with Neptune, who is inhabited by a mermaid with blonde hair and glittery bustier (Rooth). She has a lot of appeal. She knows Wagner‘s “The Ring Cycle” by heart.
She wants a dryer. The repairman says, “To give you a tumble, eh?” She replies, “For companionship.” And he retorts, “That’s not the truth, that’s just…spin.” You‘d be surprised how many washing machine puns Ives can come up with.
His girlfriend Mabel (Hutchinson) doesn‘t stand a chance, but finally she figures out the way to his heart is as an exec at a soap company.
The Goodness of Your Heart was not my favorite. Another consumerism satire, it tells what happens when a test of friendship is giving costly presents.
Marsh (Holmes) demands that his friend and neighbor Del (Burton) buy him a very expensive TV. Marsh, in plaid flannel shirt and faded jeans, is obviously working class. Del wears a business shirt. He says, “Are you putting a price tag on our friendship?”
They argue back and forth, Marsh insisting that he is doing Del a favor by making the demand. He turns out to be a selfish, self-centered guy who won‘t even say thank you. I thought the sketch a bit silly, overdone. So maybe Ives isn’t perfect!
“Lives of the Saints.” Written by David Ives; directed by John Rando. Primary Stages at The Duke, 229 West 42nd Street, New York City. 212-840-9705. Opened Feb 24, 2015; closes March 27, 2015. 2/24/15.