While the sketch-comedy format is
familiar and the laughs are easy, we sometimes can feel the playwright
reaching for something bigger. Timing’s humor hovers somewhere between Saturday Night Live
and the absurdist masterpieces of Beckett and Ionesco. Ably led by
director Brian Hensley, the cast of six is up to the verbal and
ultimately philosophical challenges, easily executing Ives’ hairpin
turns of communication and miscommunication.
In “Words, Words, Words,” the monkey
joke takes center stage. Displaying some impressive simian behavior,
Katharine Gibson, Jordan Glaski and Pete Zalizniak play three lab
chimps appropriately named Kafka, Milton and Swift. Given the mandate
to type something called Hamlet, they lead their monkey lives,
rail against the godlike scientist who put them there, and discuss the
futility of their task and other philosophical truths.
A puckish J. Brazill steals “English
Made Simple.” Transforming a role originally conceived as an off-stage
loudspeaker voice, Brazill sounds and looks like the chain-smoking,
sleazy emcee of a cheap dive. He interprets the chatter of two urban
party-goers (Gibson and Jennie Russo), charting the rise, fall and
ultimate rebirth of their relationship. In this production, a character
gender change from Jack and Jill to Jill and Jane does shift a subtle
joke: No one goes up a verbal hill and falls down without someone
Ives gives a backhanded tribute to the
City of Brotherly Love in “The Philadelphia.” Exploring the infinite
possibilities that are hidden behind the disappointing menu of life’s
choices, the sketch places Brazill and Glaski in a café, where what you
ask for is happily not what you get.
Timing takes special delight in
placing couples into positions where language determines the
relationship. Using fragments of languages and cultural signposts in
relationships worthy of James Joyce, “The Universal Language” is an
actors’ playground. Zalizniak and Angela Newman take ample advantage of
its delights, bringing the nonsense language unamunda vividly to life.
“Sure Thing” is an example of the
theater of potentiality as it dissects a chance meeting in a coffee
shop. With the ding of a bell, Bill (Glaski) and Betty (Newman) get a
do-over whenever the conversation goes awry. Possibilities fly by like
pages flipped in a book until the appropriate romantic ending is
achieved. It’s a funny bit, but “Sure Thing” is also the most tentative
play in this production: The actors seem to be reaching for a
realistic, nuanced performance in a piece that demands a breathless
The cleverest play is “Philip Glass Buys
a Loaf of Bread,” in which a visit to the bakery by the post-modernist
composer takes on the characteristics of one of his hypnotic musical
compositions. In attacking what could be an abstract piece of theater,
director Hensley and his cast show discipline and imagination while
stripping down language and movement to their musical components.
Hensley introduces this production as
menu-style theater in which the audience determines the order of the
plays. While this honors the Ivesian theme of the importance of timing,
it also imposes leisurely set changes and prevents the actors from
developing a performance rhythm. Still, each of the plays in All in the Timing shines brilliantly, adding up to a sparkling evening of theater.
This production runs through March 21. See Times Table for information.