It's hard work to suck the life out of playwright David Ives' lively collection of short plays All in the Timing, but Stages Theatre does a good job. Director Lou Trumbo takes six of Ives' one-acts and comes up with a production that feels more like an undergrad drama club running lines than an evening of sharply witty, easygoing theater.
Each of these six short plays is driven by Ives' intelligently crafted comedic style, which buoyantly skims the surface of things while still making astute existential observations. The production's first playlet, "Sure Thing," begins with a man approaching a woman reading a book in a café, asking if the empty chair at her table is taken. Bringing to mind the déjà-vu silliness of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, it is the story of Betty (Nicole Curtis) and Bill (Michael Skinner), who coincidentally meet in a café on a rainy Saturday night and have the luxury of ringing a bell when the going gets awkward—to reset the conversation and give themselves a second chance to say the right thing. A bell. Maybe they should start distributing bells for audience members to ring each time an actor drops a line or gets tongue-tied. That would be engaging.
Similar is the third play of the night, "Variations on the Death of Leon Trotsky," which presents a number of possible though silly scenarios that repeat key lines and all end in the death of communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Skinner again). Playing Mrs. Trotsky is Andrea Marie Freeman, who is one of the few bright spots in the otherwise-tedious production. Her poised presence carries each of the short plays she is in, especially the second play, "Words, Words, Words," which looks at three monkeys in a research-lab cell, where they must stay until one of them comes up with the script for Hamlet.
The three other plays include "The Philadelphia," "English Made Simple" and "Foreplay: The Art of the Fugue," and all follow pretty much the same trend: a solidly funny, at times touching script whose potential to produce carefree comedy is overwhelmed by self-conscious performances that make you feel like you're at your younger brother's middle school variety show.
ALL IN THE TIMING AT STAGES THEATRE, 400 E. COMMONWEALTH AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 525-4484. FRI.-SUN. CALL FOR TIMES. THROUGH APRIL 8. $8-$16.