Last weekend at the Rubicon, a man struck out 38 times with the same woman; three monkeys faced existential crises in front of their typewriters; a woman with a speech impediment mastered a universal language whose roots appeared to be Germanic, Latin and Pop Culture; Composer Philip Glass ran into an old flame in a minimalist bakery; a man was forced to confront his mental demon: Philadelphia; and Leon Trotsky addressed his own imminent death — and the mountain climber’s axe wedged in his skull — eight different times, with the help of his wife.
A Saturday night is never misspent with playwright David Ives.
Director Robert Grande-Weiss deftly brings together a cast of five theater heavies and three acrobat stagehands to do justice to Ives’s collection of short plays, all addressing pressing questions of modern life (just three weeks ago, the “Could monkeys typing into infinity eventually produce Hamlet?” issue was addressed in a discussion of quantum computing on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation).
This collection of shorts, better known as All in the Timing, has received significant play at colleges and high schools throughout the country. And its success owes much to the pieces’ technical simplicity and the quick, satisfying payoff of the average Ives one act (the painless logistics and always-relevant dating themes of “Sure Thing” made it easy for a friend of mine to stage it at Nordhoff High’s oppressive cafetorium; the spectacle of a proletariat icon with a pickaxe in his head appealed to a UC San Diego alum I know, spawning a reportedly inspired production).
But easy staging and ease of performance are not one and the same. Consider how difficult it is to convincingly speak a gibberish language like a native or respond to a bell as a call to an alternate reality, and it’s clear that this undertaking could go horribly, horribly wrong. Luckily, we’re given a stellar cast (as with every Rubicon production, I guarantee you at least one moment of, “Hey, I know that guy! How do I know that guy…?” as stars of television, film, and stage combine their collective talents).
Nancy Nufer enlivens the part of delicate stuttering flower as well as an irreverent Mrs. Trotsky. Paul Provenza (director of the controversial film, The Aristocrats) excels as the effusive language professor and the baffled Trotsky. Michael Medico makes a smooth transition from careless diner in a Los Angeles state of mind to Spanish Communist assassin. Paul Welterlen propels himself onstage as a finicky New Yorker, loudly trying to find his footing through a very shitty day. Carolyn Palmer lends a sultry voice to the almost operatic repetitions of the ex-lover in Philip Glass’s neighborhood bakery, then puts on a sneer to play a pitch-perfect bitchy waitress mentally stuck in Cleveland.
For all the attraction All in the Timing holds on-campus, it enjoyed quite a following from a well-dressed audience of Ventura theatre-goers, an opening night crowd that tends to be more than a few years out of the university system. Ives is accessible partly because the humor is smart but not elitist; Philip Glass need only be a Simpsons reference in the back of your mind for you to delight in the absurdity of his staccato musings in the middle of an awkward run-in. The Unamunda language is recognizable whether you hold a degree in linguistics or just happen to catch the delightful pasta, prison, furniture dances (translation: past, present, future tenses) of the unconventional romance tongue. Ives is the master of intellectual send-ups that are actually, universally, very funny.
In between acts, a sprite trio — Kristi Hughes, Jon Morris, and Scot Nankivel (all of whom have significant background in physical theater) — trot onstage dressed in white painter’s jumpsuits and looking like the friendly hosts of early ’90s children’s programming on PBS: their exaggerated skipping and purposely schmaltzy reactions to set pieces prove the old theater cliché, repeated irritatingly by directors everywhere, that it’s all a dance! Scene changes become as engaging as the plays themselves as the trio sambas and throws in the odd Charlie Chaplin move sure to make the audience gasp.
Due to a repeatedly-delayed dinner date and extremely bad planning, I missed the first two plays. But judging by the airtight staging of the rest of the show, I can say with all confidence that Provenza, Nufer, and Medico played off each other perfectly as three primates negotiating their way through an elusive literary experiment in “Words, Words, Words,” and that Palmer and Welterlen nailed “Sure Thing,” highlighting the intricacies and missteps of romantic connections.