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Perfect Timing

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A big bravo to All in the Timing

By Daedalus Howell

THE ACTORS' THEATRE production of David Ives' All in the Timing, a sextet of superbly comic one-acts, is so good, so astounding, so flawless that it betokens the supernatural, devilish pacts of souls swapped for profound talent. Numerologists may check their math to assure themselves that this show is indeed one crucial digit from marking the beast. Six plays, six directors, seven actors: 667--whew, close call.

An award-winning collection of short pieces, All in the Timing is testimony to Ives' genius as a playwright. Actors' Theatre meets the dramatist on his level with a crackerjack stable of double-cast performers and remarkably concordant directors. The community of talents at work in this production bespeaks utopia.

Sure Thing is a snappy social satire depicting a pair of romantically aligned strangers bungling through their maiden conversation at a cafe. Whenever the couple capsizes with an ill-conceived stab at communion, the dialogue is comically reset by a loud bell. As the fledgling paramours, an affable Brian Bryson and Jill Wehrer (masters of the uncomfortable pause and apprehensive grimace) are commendably directed by Celeste Thomas.

This piece is the perfect introduction to Ives' often esoteric humor.

Words, Words, Words riffs on the philosophical adage that monkeys typing for an infinite amount of time will eventually result in the script for Hamlet. Actors Frankie Travis, Michael T. Galusha, and Robert Conrad appear as three primates (sardonically named Kafka, Swift, and Milton, respectively) amid a writing jag.

Costumed in Ema Phelps' Tweedle-Dee twist on monkey regalia, the performers play Ives' rapier wit to the hilt, turning the blade until one's belly aches from laughter.

Director Sheri Lee Miller's deftly interpreted The Universal Language finds lanky Ken Griffin as Don, the originator and sole instructor of the onomatopoetic language "Unamunda," a veritable linguistic love child of James Joyce and Dr. Seuss intended to unite the world. Enter Dawn (the absolutely marvelous Sheila Groves), a stutterer who pines for verbal release through Unamunda.

What follows is sheer hilarity as the players' agile oratory skills (Griffin is so adept at the nonsensical prattle he should have his tongue bronzed) are swimmingly deployed through a first lesson. Groves' characterization of the nervy Dawn is so delectably sweet it should be eaten with a spoon.

Groves also appears as the wife of the title character in director Joe Winkler's biting Variations on the Death of Trotsky, Bryson reappearing as the slain Bolshevik, a mountaineer's axe wedged in his head. Bryson is marvelous as the befuddled Trotsky enduring several possible permutations of his own death. Galusha, too, is delightful as Trotsky's nebbishy gardener-cum-assassin.

In The Philadelphia, Bryson directs Griffin and Conrad as diners who discover they are victims of a "Philadelphia"--an episode of metaphysical disorder that dictates they can get only the opposite of what they order from salty waitress Wehrer. Conrad is sublimely hilarious as Al, a brackish dime-store philosopher and apparent veteran of such paranormal inconveniences.

Closing All in the Timing is AT artistic director Argo Thompson's immaculately directed Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread. The perfect crescendo to AT's lineup, Ives' piece posits what the brand-name composer would experience were he to run into a former lover at a bakery. In an astute parody of Glass' avant musical trappings, Thompson's cast (most of the above, with Bryson as Glass) launch into a operatic tour de force of voice and movement with exhilarating results.

If you can see All in the Timing, do see it; go now. This is what theater is meant to be.


All in the Timing plays Thursday-Sunday through March 21. Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 2 p.m. Actors' Theatre, at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $6-$12. 523-4185.

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From the March 5-11, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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