He has been compared to Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, but even David Ives knows his stuff is more Mad Magazine. But he is entertaining—and clever and funny—and the six short plays in his All In the Timinghave elevated Ives to a stature few playwrights ever come close to.
This University Players production at Cal State Long Beach does almost everything right. Almost. "Variations on the Death of Trotsky" ought to be more than a funny bit about an intellectual (Scott Lennard) with a mountain-climbing axe buried in his skull. It's really a rich exploration of a man desperately—slowly, thoroughly—experiencing his death. This production plays the piece for laughs, and while it's funny, I've seen other productions that haunted me.
In "Words, Words, Words," Ives is closer to Seinfeld than Stoppard. He takes a cliché—given enough time and typewriters, even a monkey could pound out Hamlet—and then gives us three monkeys (named Kafka, Milton and Swift) but nothing more. An interesting concept dies as a mere gag.
The group does better with "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," in which a modest commercial transaction—the famed modern composer's simple request for bread—turns into an elaborate 10-minute modern-dance opera. While few words are spoken, the piece shows Ives at his most thoughtful. Even an everyday moment can turn into a symphony if we understand that time can be bent.
The production nails the funniest play, "Sure Thing," in which time is measured in a series of misspoken words or bumbling actions. A young man and woman try desperately to score with each other, but each time they supply the wrong line, a bell rings, and they start again. Ben Graney and Hallie King capture the remarkable rhythm of the piece, as well as its sense of missed opportunities, proving life truly is all in the timing.
All In the Timing by University Players at Cal State Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 985-7000. Thurs., Nov. 29, 6 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m. $10.