As a playwright, comedy champion David Ives (Mere Mortals, Polish Joke) is not so much a creator of funny situations as he is a creator of alternate universes, where anything can and will happen, and the more wrong the better. Although it might not be very much fun to be in a David Ives-conceived situation, it is more than just fun to watch; it is hilarity itself. Further, Ives is the embodiment of cognitive dissonance when it comes to using the written word. From creating a brand-new language to tracking the final hours of Leon Trotsky, Ives can make just about anything gut-bustingly funny.
So it is in the collection of six of his short one-acts, All in the Timing, which Ghost & Spice Productions performed this past weekend at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC. A cast of four brings these six plays to hilarious life. Three are Ghost & Spice company members Jeff Alguire, Tracey Coppedge, and Rus Hames; the fourth is guest artist Lormarev Jones. Julian “J” Chachula, Jr., taking a workman’s holiday from his own Raleigh company, Flying Machine Theatre Company, directs.
Not only does this quartet give terrific and dead-center characterizations to a wide range of characters, they also take on the mind-bending tasks of mastering these near-impossible verbal juggernauts while also giving them the terrific timing that the name requires. The ability to conceive of such theatrical shenanigans is a stretch for most of us; to deliver them in this word-perfect manner, as these four do, is a feat that may almost be considered miraculous. To simply have a David Ives creation on your resume is a pretty fine feather in one’s cap. To really get it right, in front of a sell-out crowd, as happened Saturday night, is mastery of one’s art.
The fun begins instantly, as Bill (Alguire) tries to pick up Betty (Coppedge) in a coffee/book shop. The reason for the title, “Sure Thing,” becomes immediately apparent; at every miscue, regardless of how far-fetched, a little bell rings (ding!), and the two can start over. And they do start over, from the last place that all is going well, until they get it right. It is obvious that to succeed in this play’s raucous endeavor requires wonderful concentration, but we are pretty much too caught up in what is happening to actually notice.
“Words, Words, Words” brings us three characters named Swift (Alguire), Kafka (Jones), and Milton (Hames), but it is far from what we might imagine. These three characters are chimps, and their duty is to prove the saw, “Three chimps, typing into infinity, will at some point produce Hamlet.” Interestingly, the event will happen sooner rather than later, but before it does, they will plot the demise of their handler, Dr. Rubenstein; argue the case of being in such a position as they are; and Milton, reflecting his namesake, will begin the epic “Paradise Lost.” And if ever a human being could succeed at imitating his ancestor, these three do so with a startling accuracy.
Act I closes with “The Universal Language,” as Don (Alguire) presents to his new student, Dawn (Jones), the intricacies of the Universal Language he calls “Unamunda.” Supremely high marks are to be given to this pair, not only for getting it Right, but for the ability to master this stunner of a script to begin with.
Act II opens with a uniquely bent interpretation of the musical style of Philip Glass, as “Philip Glass Buys A Loaf of Bread.” This is a full-cast dazzler as choreography and music turn the troupe into musical puppets, pulled by Ives in Glass’ supposedly inimitable style. Even if you have never even heard of Philip Glass before, this is a hilarious and superbly staged work by both cast and director.
“The Philadelphia” describes what might be called a fugue, in the psychological sense. Al (Hames) and Mark (Alguire) meet for lunch at a deli in New York City. But Mark is having a dreadful day, and has to describe it to his companion. Al recognizes the symptoms immediately as being trapped in a “time warp” known as a Philadelphia, in that nothing one asks for is even available, let alone have-able. The newspaper, the food, even the destination of your cab, all go terribly wrong, because, in a Philadelphia, even the master of miscue, Murphy himself, is an amateur.
Ives gives his own spin on an historical event in his final comedy, “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” Hames plays the title role with a pickaxe in his head, the time being August 21, 1940, the day after his gardener, Ramon (Alguire), planted it there. Mr. T is, however, oblivious to the small detail as he proceeds on his opus. It is not until his wife (Jones) reads him a passage from the newest (as in the 2007!) edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, detailing his demise, does Leon actually succumb, but once he does, he does so several times, leading one to wonder about Ives’ interpretation of the phrase “A coward dies a thousand deaths ….”
If you are a lover of wordplay, the gaffe, the gag, or the impossibly funny, then you will have the time of your life at Ghost & Spice’s production of All in the Timing. This collection is nonstop hilarity, and Ghost & Spice presents it with masterful aplomb. This is the very first absolutely must-see show of the New Year, and you had best call now, because there is no doubt that it will sell out quickly – if it hasn’t already.
Ghost & Spice Productions presents All in the Timing Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 17-19, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Jan. 20, at 3 p.m.; and Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 24-26, at 8 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $14 ($12 students and seniors), except half price Jan. 17th and 24th. 888/239-9253 or etix through the presenter's website.. Ghost & Spice Productions: http://www.ghostandspice.com/. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/events.