Directed by John Rando
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
In his seventeenth-century poem “On Time,” John Milton envisions humankind’s triumph over “envious Time.” Milton writes, “When once our heav’nly-guided soul shall clime, / Then all this Earthy grosnes quit, / Attir’d with Stars, we shall for ever sit, / Triumphing over Death, and Chance, and thee O Time.” Time (and all its vicissitudes) is the subject of “All in the Timing” currently running at 59E59 Theater A in New York City.
Under John Rando’s thoughtful and collaborative direction, the engaging ensemble cast of David Ives’ original six “All in the Timing” plays is able to achieve a remarkable level of artistic excellence. Ives’ six one-act plays employ existentialism, romanticism, wordplay, and a bevy of rhetorical devices to demonstrate how timing teases almost every aspect of life: dating; language; human encounters; humor; even humanity’s understanding of things eternal. And, of course, the plays demonstrate how success in the theatre is often achieved through actors’ understanding of timing.
The importance of timing is evident in “Sure Thing” with Carson Elrod as Bill and Liv Rooth as Betty. On a rainy night in a café, Bill approaches the empty chair at Betty’s table and the two engage in an extended round of possible conversations that might occur at such a chance meeting. This is probably the most difficult play for the actors. The conversations weave through each other and give the actors ample opportunities to respond to the wrong cue. This fast-paced one-act serves as a strong beginning and feature two actors who thoroughly capture the importance of timing in comedy.
“Words, Words, Words” is a wonderful parody of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” This one-act puts three actors in Dr. David Rosenbaum’s laboratory at Columbia University testing the infinite monkey theorem that revolves around the idea that a monkey hitting random keys on a typewriter (or in today’s context, a keyboard) for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, usually defined as the complete works of William Shakespeare. With Carson Elrod, Liv Rooth, and Matthew Saldivar as three monkeys named Swift, Kafka, and Milton respectively, this riff on the theorem celebrates random theory and humanity’s fascination with the meaning of the infinite.
Knowing when a new beginning is really a new beginning is the argument addressed in “The Universal Language” with Jenn Harris as Dawn, Carson Elrod as Don, and Eric Clem as the Young Man. Occurring in the present in a generic classroom, the one-act develops the engaging trope of teaching a universal language which, in fact, is a fraud. Dawn come to Don’s class to learn Unamunda in hopes that the universal language will not only stop her stutter in it tracks but provide the opportunity for a new beginning in life. Just as the homonymic pair concludes the nonsense language is just nonsense, a young man enters the classroom searching for a new beginning in a world of non-sense and the quest continues.
After a fifteen minute intermission, “All in the Timing continues with “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” featuring the full cast at a bakery in the present imagining how the famed American composer would cope with encountering an old love while buying a loaf of bread. Ives’ script sweetly riffs the composer’s minimalist musings on what humanity wishes life could be.
Being out of synch, out of place, and out of time is the theme of “The Philadelphia” with Matthew Saldivar as Al, Jenn Harris as the Waitress, and Carson Elrod as Mark. A restaurant in New York City in the present provides the opportunity for the pair of friends to explore how their current difficulties in communicating and surviving relate to the distinct “personalities” of major cities. Jenn Harris’ waitress is the perfect foil to the friends’ floundering in a wonderful batch of truisms.
Perhaps most poignant is “Variations on the Death of Trotsky” where in his study in Coyoacan, Mexico on August 21, 1940, Trotsky “relives” his demise in eight variations. The one-act concludes with a large backdrop of Henri Rosseau’s painting “Surprised!” depicting a tiger ready to pounce on its prey just as Trotsky ultimately met his surprising death at the hands of an assassin (Eric Clem). Trotsky’s wife (Liv Rooth) reads from an encyclopedia from the future to inform her husband of the details of his death. If only humankind had more control of the mystery of the thing called time. We could re-boot, re-do, re-make important events, life-changing events, critical events and create alternative endings, alternate realities, even alternate futures.
Sitting for just short of two hours with David Ives and the 20th anniversary revival of his “All in the Timing” might be all we get of that possibility. However, that time, that precious time with the brilliant cast of “All in the Timing” is a timeless gift.