It was as if I were at an improvisational theatre at Primary Stages. This particular stage presented a 20th Anniversary revival of playwright David Ives’ All In The Timing. The set has a backdrop of some clocks, one of which is working (but not the correct time). There are six doors, three on the right and three on the left. A coffee mug and flower in a vase sits on top of a café table with two chairs. Betty (Liv Rooth) sits there reading a book. Bill (Carson Elrod) enters. It’s a rainy night. Bill asks Betty if the seat is taken. She answers and you hear a bell. Bill asks if the seat is taken and Betty gives another answer. The scene continues this way as with just about each answer, you hear a bell and the dialogue changes. It’s as if an improv, but it’s not and does lead to dialogue and a happy ending. This particular scene is called, “Sure Thing”.
All In The Timing is composed of six brain teasing sketches that run from amusing to hilarious, not all of which employ the “ring of the bell” schtik.
“Words, Words, Words” is the next sketch. There are three desks, each with a typewriter and each of the desks bares a name: Milton (Matthew Saldivar), Swift (Carson) and Kafka (Liv). They are monkeys in the lab of Columbia University. There is a rubber tire hanging from a rope for them to play on. Premise? Three monkeys, left alone in a room, each with a typewriter will eventually produce Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Great scene of when they pause and aware that they are being looked at, posed in the “hear no evil, etc.” and dialogue reflecting that. Somewhat crude on the physical humor and does make a point in all of our lives.
In “The Universal Language,” a stuttering woman, Dawn (Jenn Harris), shows up in a classroom where a professor, Don (Carson) waits to teach the world his answer to Esperanto, a language called Unamundo. We hear words such as “Velcro” for “welcome” and “How are you?” becoming, “Harvard U”. Dawn’s motive for learning the language is that it doesn’t make her stutter. The words do wind up connecting the characters and after awhile the audience can even recognize Don’s language. Be sure to notice the backdrop of words and you can most likely figure out what it says even before Don speaks.
Interpishon. “Philip Glass Buys A Loaf of Bread begins the second half. It’s another “ring the bell”. There is a baker behind a glass case housing one loaf of bread. Philip Glass (Carson) enters to ask for a loaf of bread. There are two women in the room. The scene changes with different dialogue and movements with rhythms in the background. At one point an “Uderbaker” (Eric Clem) comes out from behind the backdrop. The entire scene is quite funny but would have been much funnier had I known who composer Philip Glass was.
“The Philadelphia” follows taking place in the present at a restaurant in New York City. Al (Matthew) is seated at a table relaxed and wearing sunglasses. Mark (Carson) enters in a bit of a frenzy. It appears that no matter what Mark asks for he is given the opposite. Al tells him that he is trapped in “Philadelphia”. Al gets word that his is fired from his job and doesn’t seem to care as he is in the state of “California”. He’s not even moved by his wife leaving him. At the end, we find that the waitress (Jenn) is in the state of “Cleveland”. The sketch is hilarious.
The concluding play, “Variation On The Death of Trotsky” (Saldivar) reflects on the last day of his life, assisted by his wife (Liv) and his assassin, Ramon (Eric Clem). Trotsky is seated with an ax sticking out of his head. His wife is reading out loud about the assassin and the ax. Another “ring the bell”. Mr. Ives places his exiled Russian, in a time warp in which destiny is played in a loop while the bell rings as he dies every day.
Each of the actors is certainly on key when it comes to the timing but would not have gotten off the ground if it weren’t for Director John Rando’s talent. Primary Stages is located at 59E59 Theaters. The play has been extended until April 14th. www.primarystages.org