Short Snorts

'All In The Timing' At Invisible Theatre Is Full Of Laughs.
By Margaret Regan 

GOING TO SEE All in the Timing is a lot like spending the evening with a brilliant young philosophy student.

Armed with an agile mind that easily grapples with such notions as being and nothingness, the budding philosopher also would dazzle the speechless listeners with scintillating wordplay, literary allusions, witty insights into the pretensions of the art world and even ironic discourses on history and Marxism. But there'd be something off-kilter about this oracle, a madly comic sense just this side of derangement.

If these ingredients sound like the stuff of an intellectual English comedy, along the lines of the verbally pyrotechnic Tom Stoppard or even Kenneth Branagh in certain moods, the surprise is that they're not English at all. Matter of fact, this series of six one-acts written by David Ives, the final offering of Invisible Theatre's season, is a very New York play. Written in the late '80s and early '90s (it won an Outer Critics Circle Playwriting Award in 1994), the work is full of routine New York allusions--Woody Allen films, the Daily News, pastrami, the supposed inferiority of Philadelphia--and archetypal New York settings--the deli, the café, the neighborhood bakery, the goofy language school upstairs in an office building, even a research lab at Columbia University.

The final piece, "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," is set in Coyoacan, the Mexico City suburb where the exiled Trotsky was murdered by a Spanish communist in 1940. But, given that Trotsky's death was endlessly analyzed by the leftist New York cognoscenti of a generation or two ago, it practically counts as a New York event.

Brainy these plays may be, but they're also hilarious. "Words, Words, Words," the second piece, is a theatrical investigation of that old philosophical saw: Would three chimpanzees typing randomly eventually produce Hamlet? Ives confines his chimps to the lab of a sadistic professor who won't let them loose until they deliver the Shakespearean goods. The hapless apes, named with no small irony Swift (Tom Toomey), Milton (James Blair) and Kafka (Suzi List), endlessly debate their existential plight, give each other writing tips and bemoan their inability even to understand their mission ("What is a Hamlet?").

All the while they cheep like chimps, eat bananas rapaciously and hop around with knees bent and backs scrunched up. In one great moment, List, without missing a beat in the scholarly debate with her colleagues, crawls inside a trash can to plunder its peanuts. This broad physical comedy is a nice counter-balance to the work's literary and historical conceits, such as the moment when Milton sadly remembers his old jungle home in Africa. It was, he laments, "a paradise." "Lost!" shouts his buddy Swift.

In one short act, these blocked writers by turns try on Marxist revolution, collaboration with the oppressor--doing chimp antics to get the goodies they crave--and finally acceptance of their condition. Following Voltaire's advice to cultivate their garden, they settle down to pounding the typewriter keys. It's only then that List's Kafka begins typing the baffling words, "Act I, Scene I, Denmark, the castle at Elsinore."

Writing, the author seems to be saying, is more about discipline than anything else.

Ives makes other common-sense observations about art in "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," a divinely funny send-up of the over-praised avant-garde. This ensemble piece for four takes a few ordinary lines--"Isn't that Philip Glass?"; "I want to buy a loaf of bread"; "Do you know that woman?"--and deconstructs them into a delicious nonsense chant of repetition danced and sung by the actors.

The act set in the language school, "The Universal Language," is an ingenious bit of lunacy that's composed almost entirely of an invented Esperanto-like idiom. The halting sexual dance of the pickup in "Sure Thing" is an intelligent dissection of attraction and fakery that's also laugh-out-loud funny. Toomey and newcomer Marisa Ross of the UA are wonderfully paired as the couple in both pieces.

The splendid writing of Ives' nouvelle theatre of the absurd would fall flat without a cast capable of its required rapid-fire dialogue. With the possible exception of Jonathan Ingbretson, who isn't given much to do, the cast of Toomey, Blair and List, all IT regulars, and Ross are up to the task. Much of the credit for their impeccable timing goes to guest director Daniel Yurgaitis, a UA theatre prof.

All in the Timing is something of a risk for Invisible Theatre, which usually tends more toward the heartwarming than this briskly unsentimental play is prepared to give. It's sprinkled here and there with profanity, and some theatregoers left at intermission. One patron was overheard pillorying the work as "sophomoric." He's partially right: The play's relentless giddiness can be wearing, just as a show-offy student who's too clever by half can turn tiresome by evening's end.

On balance, though, the few minutes of tedium are worth every second of the playwright's inspired rantings. TW

All in the Timing continues at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. Sundays through May 25, at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Tickets are $12.50 weeknights, $15 weekends. For more information or for reservations call 882-9721.

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