‘All in the Timing’ Delivers an Evening of Pun
By Doug Carroll
Whatever you do, don’t leave your pun detector at home when you attend “All in the Timing.”
The delightful set of six short, one-act comedies by American playwright David Ives, now playing at GCU’s Ethington Theatre, represents highbrow humor at its best. The brisk pace of Ives’ witty wordplay requires full attention from the audience, and even then you’re bound to miss puns and inside jokes as they fly past. At Friday’s opening night, I couldn’t have caught all of them if I’d had a net.
This is adult comedy, not because it’s graphic in any way but because so much of the material is over the heads of children (and even teens). Fans of the British eccentricity of Monty Python or the improvisational genius of Chicago’s Second City troupe will feel right at home — there’s even a sly reference to Python legend John Cleese — and GCU’s 14-member cast, under the direction of Valley stage veteran Joe Flowers, comes through with a magnificent interpretation of Ives’ cerebral work.
Most of the six plays are about relationships. In half of them, the playwright uses the device of stopping and restarting the dialogue as a means of introducing commentary on what is being said.
The trick is especially effective in “Sure Thing” and “English Made Simple,” the first two plays, which are about couples meeting in a café and at a party, respectively. Jake Swanson and Ashley Hines set the tone with their well-executed, stop-and-go banter in “Sure Thing.”
“English Made Simple” skewers the banalities marking the first three minutes of a conversation, and the characters played by Adam Benevidas and Lauren Bailey get the awkwardness just right. Bailey, whose beautiful voice brightened the season-opening musical, “The Pirates of Penzance,” shows she has some acting chops, too.
Then the show takes a turn for the strange, but it’s no less fun. “Words, Words, Words” is about three chimpanzees assigned to write “Hamlet.” Their names are (Jonathan) Swift, (Franz) Kafka and (John) Milton, and the chimps — played by Chris Ibanez, Megan Weaver and Nathan DeLaet, respectively — admit to being homesick as they peck away at typewriters and make ape noises.
“Paradise, wasn’t it?” Kafka says of their African jungle environment.
“Lost!” Milton exclaims.
“The Philadelphia,” though entertaining, probably is best appreciated by a New York audience. Glamour girl Alice (Andrea Miller) convinces slightly psycho Margaret (Shelby Athouguia) that Margaret is in “a Philadelphia,” a condition brought about by never getting what you ask for. The solution, then, is to ask for what you don’t want, even in such mundane matters as ordering food at a restaurant. (A similar reverse psychology was espoused by the George Costanza character in an episode of “Seinfeld.”)
“Variations on the Death of Trotsky” is a free-wheeling hoot fest. Russian Revolution leader Leon Trotsky was attacked in 1940 at his home in Mexico by a Stalinist assassin wielding a mountain climber’s ax. As Trotsky, Brad Beamon lurches about the stage with a hatchet affixed to his head — Trotsky survived the attack for one day — and spews hilarious, pun-filled observations on his fate and legacy as his wife (Rachel Maish) reads his obituary to him.
“Can’t you get that through your skull?” she says to him in a moment of frustration.
Such a production calls for a big finish, and “The Universal Language” supplies it. Don (Shane Geant) and Dawn (Tabitha Valentine) meet when Dawn shows up to inquire about language classes being taught by Don. However, this is no ordinary tongue. It’s something called Unamunda, in which “Welcome!” translates as “Velcro!” and “et cetera” is “et cinema.”
Dawn, befuddled at first, begins to catch on, and soon the characters are exchanging wordplays in gibberish as they become attracted to each other. Geant and Valentine are brilliant in the show’s most demanding roles. Their vocal inflections and pacing make Unamunda seem authentic — not an easy task.
Assistant Dean Bill Symington’s minimalist set keeps the focus right where it should be: on the rich dialogue written by Ives, 60, a Chicago native who lives in New York and wrote “All in the Timing” in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
Although the cast of “The Pirates of Penzance” was bolstered by several gifted alumni performers, the production of “All in the Timing” is evidence that the College of Fine Arts and Production has student talent in abundance. Kudos to Dean Claude Pensis for his work in bringing quality theatre back to the Ethington stage.
The second and final weekend of “All in the Timing” is Oct. 29-31, with the first two shows at 7:30 p.m. and the third at 2 p.m. For tickets, call the Ethington box office at 639.8880 or stop by from noon to 5 p.m. this week.
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.