Omri Schein (center) in "All in the Timing" at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Photo by Aaron Rumley
If good comedy is indeed all in the timing, North Coast Repertory Theatre has a hit on its hands. The Solana Beach-based company’s production of David Ives’ cleverly conceived exercises in wordplay and movement are as finely wound as the workings of a clock depicted in Marty Burnett’s set design. Having all kinds of fun on stage is an adroit ensemble of six, directed by David Ellenstein with a clear appreciation for Ives’ singular knack for the cerebral and the absurd.
“All in the Timing” is comprised of a half-dozen Ives sketches or mini-plays produced between 1987 and 1993. The one-act comedies premiered together Off Broadway in ’93, and the compilation has been a popular theater attraction ever since. At North Coast Rep, one of the six original plays-within-a-play, “The Philadelphia,” has been swapped out for one titled “Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue.” More on this gem later.
The best of “All in the Timing’s” offerings are those that subvert theatrical convention. In “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread,” Omri Schein portrays the minimalist composer in an impeccably choreographed mingling of rhythmic language and a capella operetta. Like a signature “Seinfeld” episode, the narrative is really about nothing, but Schein and the rest of the ensemble (David McBean, Noelle Marion, Christian Pedersen, Taylor Renee Henderson and Uma Incrocci) make buying bread a joyfully hilarious experience.
Likewise, in “The Universal Language,” McBean and Henderson maintain the zany momentum of an entire one-act about a school of “Unamunda” in which a con artist is teaching a new tongue (it sounds like witty gibberish) to a lonely, stuttering and gullible student. That this becomes an unlikely romance is a happy surprise.
Speaking of romance, in two of Ives’ plays, “Sure Thing” and “Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue,” would-be dating and dating respectively get the full rinse-and-repeat treatment. In “Sure Thing,” Marion and Pedersen meet by chance in a café in a seemingly familiar scenario. But each time a bell rings, the couple’s encounter takes a different comic turn, the result being that even William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” gets laughs. In “Foreplay,” a miniature golf course called Lilli-Putt Lane is the locale for three coinciding dates for a wannabe Don Juan named Chuck (played simultaneously by Schein, McBean and Pedersen) and three different women (Henderson, Marion and Incrocci). The inanity of mini-golf is actually exceeded by the ensuing antics.
Schein, McBean and Incrocci go ape in “Words, Words, Words,” playing chimps under observation tasked with typing until “Hamlet” is somehow re-created. Finally, in the show-closing “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” the circumstances of the Russian revolutionary’s assassination are served up as a crazy sight gag. Think axe in scalp.
At 90 minutes total and with each of the one-act plays only about as lengthy as it should be, “All in the Timing” is a swiftly paced, farcical showcase for actors and a director at the top of their game.
(Review originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune on 4/16/19.)
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat