When All In The Timing, a clutch of one act comedies by David Ives, opened at Primary Stages in 1993, New York Times critic Ben Brantley called it “utterly delightful.” Twenty years later, the electric Venus In Fur has made Ives more famous than ever, and Primary Stages has brought All In The Timing back to life. This time, Brantley describes the play as “one of the zestier plates of theatrical tapas to be had,” which proves two things:
1. Ben Brantley has become a more adventurous prose stylist.
2. The work that made Ives’ famous has aged beautifully.
Like a certain famous light beer, All In The Timing won’t fill you up and will never let you down. These six one-act comedies are happily absurd—tales of a first date repeated forever, monkeys doomed to spend eternity trying to type Hamlet, and a particularly introspective Leon Trotsky (pictured above) forced to contend with the mountain climber’s ax that has been smashed into his skull. But, though effervescent, they are not as flimsy as they appear. Perform them poorly, and the entire evening could come crashing down to earth. To understand why, instead, it flies by, Bullett spoke to director John Rando.
As you’ve directed it, All In The Timing rockets past quick enough that the actors barely have a chance to breathe. What makes that speed possible?
David’s writing is so distilled, and so like music. My job is teaching his tempo. It’s a very detailed, specific process, where an actor has to find a through line, find a character, find an emotional reality—and at the same time recognize that the language is heightened and sharp and quick. Being able to do that takes a lot of musicianship from the actors.
This seems like a collection of plays that, directed badly, could fall flat on its face. How did you avoid that?
With David’s short plays, the first twelve lines of the play are the heart of the show. Getting the beginning of the play right—visually and emotionally—makes it all make sense. We’ve got three monkeys sitting around and typing and randomly trying to produce Hamlet. It’s ridiculous. But making that very clear at the very beginning allows the audience to catch up quickly. Because they’re short plays, you don’t have time for exposition. Your exposition’s over before you know it.
Do you have a favorite of the six plays?
No. That’s like asking someone who’s their favorite child! I don’t. I like them each for their own reason. What I like best about each of the plays is that they stand alone, but feel so good together. Each does a different thing for an audience. Each poses a different problem. The monkey play poses a problem because you have to have this physical problem, but you also have this very caged-in idea. Getting the audience to root for these monkeys is difficult.
“Sure Thing,” the first play, is very difficult, primarily because of the repetition. It’s difficult for the actors to remember, and they have to be slightly different, emotionally different, each time the scene starts over. That takes a lot of drilling and repetition. “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” which is sort of this crazy vaudeville sketch that turns into this magnificent play, you suddenly find at the end that it’s kind of sweet and touching and weird, that he’s dying and falling in love with his wife again.
The idea is that each play has its own pain, and that’s what truly makes them plays.
As opposed to sketches?
And is David enjoying this revival?
Very much so. He enjoyed the rehearsals. He was very happy to be back working on the plays again. I told him, revisiting these characters is like being with old friends.