“All in the Timing,” a collection of short plays by the very talented playwright David Ives, was split into a couple of parts by Artists’ Repertory Theatre and presented at the past two Rogue Festivals. Both outings were big artistic successes. Ives’ gently absurdist contemplations of time and language fit perfectly into the Rogue’s breezy, fast-paced format. Sharp performances abounded. The direction crackled. Audiences seemed to walk away exhilarated.
Now ART has brought back all the Rogue short plays, plus one bonus offering that hadn’t made the cut, in an evening-length performance of “All in the Timing.”
In this incarnation, the magic is harder to find. The laughs are still in evidence, but the wit and precision of the evenings is diminished.
I’m sure that part of my reaction is a lack of surprise. I’ve seen these one-acts before, and not that long ago, and the freshness just wasn’t there in abundance at the Saturday evening performance I attended. (I missed the first weekend of the show and went on the second; there are two more weekends of performances to come.) In several cases, changes in cast or direction bogged down what had been uproarious titles. And the cumulative weight of the eight offerings gave the evening a heaviness that wasn’t even hinted at with the Rogue shows.
A case in point: the short play “The Universal Language,” directed by Michael J. Peterson. This clever one-act about a troubled woman who answers a classified ad to learn a language with which she isn’t familiar featured Kate McKnight reprising her strong and resonant performance from the Rogue. (In fact, it’s one of the strongest roles I’ve ever seen her play.) But her partner in the scene, Luis Ramentas, doesn’t connect with McKnight with the same chemistry as Jaguar Bennett, who played the role in the Rogue. And for a one-act that revels in language, this version lacked the crispness in diction it needed.
Another example: “Sure Thing,” about a couple who meet in a restaurant and speed through various versions of reality as their conversation meanders. M. Justin Red and Suzanne Graznya gave strong performances. But the direction by Jeff White seemed more tentative and indulgent than at the Rogue show. The bell-ringer who signified the shifts in reality was too much a part of the action, and there just seemed something odd about the way that various lines were stretched out (and, to me, hammed up) that thwarted the brisk, forward momentum of the piece.
There are many aspects of this version of “All in the Timing” that are effective, from Jeff White and Chris Campbell’s inspired set design (distinguished by Katharine Lawrie’s artwork) to the sight of the very amusing Red blundering around stage with a mountain climber’s axe buried in his skull. And the sight of Gordon Moore, John Masier and Julie Ann Keller scampering around like monkeys is all but guarantee to produce a grin. (Moore’s soaring eyebrows make a welcome cameo.)
But something about, well, the timing of “All in the Timing” seemed off. I have to back down considerably from my original Rogue raves.