Trust me. David Ives’ All In The Timing is unlike any program of one-acts you’ve ever seen. Imagine a series of sketches on Saturday Night Live, but with their intelligence level upped to the nth power. Ives’ six comic concoctions are smart plays indeed, each one with its own particular (and peculiar) “high concept.” As performed by a stellar troupe of eight at Crown City Theatre, the sextet of playlets make for one quirky, entertaining evening of theater at its most unique.

The Philadelphia (directed by Ben Rovner) posits a world whose citizens “fall” into various “cities,” each with its own rules. Mark (Jeff Torres), for example, has fallen into a “Philadelphia,” a (Twilight-like) zone where, according to his friend Al (Mikhail Roberts), the only way to get what you want is by asking for what you don’t want. Mark tests his new-found knowledge on waitress Katy Foley, with hilarious results.

In Universal Language (directed by William A. Reilly), a stutterer named Dawn (Lucy Chambers) visits a very special language school where Unamunda, a wild-and-crazy (yet somehow comprehensible) language, is taught by its inventor (and sole speaker) Don (Dane Stauffer). Lines like “arf mangey, mangey deep-feecountries” (there are many, many difficulties) score laugh after laugh, and rightly so, but it’s Universal Language’s poignancy that sticks in the mind and heart.

Philip Glass Buys A Loaf Of Bread (directed by Reilly) has the contemporary classical composer (Douglas Thornton) joined in his bread purchase by a man (Roberts), a woman (Foley), and a baker (Tim Polzin), whose rapid-fire one, two, and three-word dialog sounds like nothing other than a minimalist Glass composition.

Sure Thing (directed by Rovner) imagines a Groundhog Day-like situation in which Bill (Thornton) and Betty (Jacquelyn Zook) meet in a café and, aided by a bell that dings each time one of them says the wrong thing, get to go back in time again and again until they get it romantically right.

 Variations Of The Death Of Trotsky (directed by Reilly) strings together eight short scenes all taking place on August 21, 1940, as the Russian revolutionary (Polzin) and his wife (Chambers) attempt to make sense of a mountain climber’s axe in the Bolshevik’s head, a hunky and occasionally shirtless Mexican named Ramon (Torres) occasionally popping into the picture.

Words, Words, Words (directed by Rovner) features a trio of simians, three typewriters, and the question, “If three monkeys typed into infinity, would they eventually produce Hamlet?” The wittily named Kafta (Zook), Swift (Mikhail Roberts), and Milton (Stauffer) end up doing just that amidst plenty of monkey business.

Co-directors Rovner and Reilly, working separately and in tandem, keep All In The Timing zipping ahead, the entire cast demonstrating expert comic timing. Rovner and Reilly insure that there’s not a moment wasted, staging all four scene changes as mini-production numbers, a theatrical slight-of-hand that allows set pieces to be switched as the audience’s eyes are kept busy elsewhere.

A dynamic Roberts shines as a macho diner with a way with the ladies, later creating a seamless mesh of monkey and human as Swift. Torres shows off a sweet naïveté as Roberts’ student in the ways of a Philadelphia, then reveals an impossibly perfect physique and topnotch comedic chops as a possibly murderous gardener. In her key scene, a delightful Foley makes for a snappy wise-cracking waitress. Cast standout Stauffer not only masters a fictitious language (you try learning lines like “Da payola arf oopsissima importantay”) but does so with panache, his scene partner Chambers revealing a touching vulnerability as Unamunda’s most eager student. Stauffer’s monkey Swift and Chambers’ Mrs. Trotsky are also comical gems. The handsome Thornton and the lovely Zook prove themselves romcom-ready with their terrific chemistry and crackerjack timing, Zook later returning to hilarious effect as monkey Kafka. Polzin is a deliciously droll and slightly off-kilter Trotsky, and together with Thornton, Roberts, and Foley makes spoken-word dialog sound exactly as if it were composed by Philip Glass.

Caitlin Erin O’Hara and Tanya Apuya deserve kudos for their eclectic blend of costumes, particularly for Words, Words, Words’ three “monkey suits.” Keiko Moreno’s fanciful set design fits All In The Timing to a T, with Zad Potter’s imaginative lighting design and Sean Finn’s ingenious sound design also meriting thumbs up. Zad Potter is production stage manager. Reilly and Rovner are producers.

Once again with All In The Timing, Crown City Theatre proves itself a North Hollywood gem. Under Rovner’s and Reilly’s nifty direction, an all-around terrific cast generate laughs galore, even as Ives’ particular comic genius leaves audience members with plenty to talk about at intermission and after the show.

Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
–Steven Stanley
April 10, 2011

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