David Ives has been a staple of student scene nights for years now. Not because his writing is in anyway simple, but because it’s short. Here is a playwright who packs a lot into a little. In fact, most of his plays are barely more than the length of SNL sketches, though much more consistently funny. Think early Woody Allen meets Christopher Durang and you begin to approach the comedic vibe of David Ives.
It takes a special sort to deliver an Ives’ piece properly and many have failed in the attempt. A performer must be equipped with an astounding verbal dexterity and, as the title of the collection indicates, timing. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a title more appropriate to the success of the play than All in the Timing. Luckily, the cast of ETC’s production is gifted enough to handle the challenges.
Six actors take on six short plays in a frenzy of comedy. Jeremy Wilkins, Casey Keelen, and Taylor Williams are hysterical as chimps typing Shakespeare in Words, Words, Words. Wilkins is especially adept at the physical and imbues his ape with a staggering level of detail. Here is a performer fearless in the face of comedy.
In The Philadelphia, a man discovers he’s fallen into a Lewis Carol-like black hole where he must ask for the opposite of what he wants in order to get it. Amy Hendricks is spot on as a diner waitress whose sole job is to make the lives of her customers an existential hell.
In the most widely performed play of the series, Sure Thing, Hendricks teams with Williams as a couple whose fate is rewritten before our eyes, in order to ensure a “happily ever after”. The two actors deftly make the hairpin turns in a piece that requires precision timing.
But if the show has a star, it’s Cody Keown. Here is an actor who can both break your heart and execute a first rate bit of buffoonery. In The Universal Language, Keown, alongside Keelen, speak in malapropisms, puns, and gibberish in an astounding feat of verbal gymnastics. And, in Variations on the Death of Trotsky, Keown plays the titular character with a dogged determination not to die, even though he has a pick-axe buried (smashed) into his skull. Mariana Allen also shines as the wife of Trotsky, who must stand by and watch as history takes her husband.
In Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread, the audience is treated to a dramatic musical interlude in the middle of the most mundane of situations. And this sums up the world of David Ives, where the absurd meets the mundane, and where language is the cornerstone of connection and of alienation. In a beautifully moving moment, Casey Keelen utters the line “I believe that language is the opposite of loneliness." Well, after listening to an audience roar in delight together, I would like to say that laughter, too, is the opposite of loneliness.
All in the Timing plays at ETC through Sunday. For more information, visit ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com.