In "Words, Words, Words," one of the hilarious sketches in David Ives' "All in the Timing," a trio of monkeys pound away at typewriters trying to prove the theory that: "Three monkeys typing into infinity will sooner or later produce 'Hamlet.' "
But whatever the "inadvertent virtues of randomness," as one monkey puts it, there's nothing random about the craftsmanship of this clever anthology of six one-act plays, or about the performances at Fell's Point Corner Theatre, where this off-Broadway hit is receiving a sparkling Baltimore premiere under Timothy Crawford's direction.
The repeated motif in Ives' script is repetition itself. Granted, this sounds tedious, but tedium is one quality this repetition lacks. Instead, Ives uses the metronome-like routines of daily life to point out the surrealistic ludicrousness of these patterns, as well as their inherent musicality. And, along the way, he touchingly depicts man's innate desire to connect.
Consider "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread." This playlet begins simply, with two women recognizing composer Philip Glass at a bakery, but it quickly evolves into a spoken parody of Glass' minimalist music. Sentences break down into phrases and then single words, which are repeated in varying order by the four-member cast. A typical exchange goes: "Now." "Once." "Now." "Now." "Nothing." "Matters." Far from feeling sterile, this diminution of language culminates in a candid emotional revelation.
Spoken Glass is undoubtedly difficult material for actors to learn -- though this cast makes it easy and amusing to listen to. The real challenge, however, must have been memorizing the skit called "Universal Language." Here, Rodney Atkins plays a professor teaching a language called Unamunda to a shy, stuttering student (Brenda Crooks). Unamunda sounds like double talk -- with good reason, as it happens. ("Alaska, iago parladoop johncleese." That's "Sorry. Unfortunately, I don't speak English.") Gibberish or not, it turns out to be a common language uniting two lonely people.
Not all six sketches are equally inspired. The opener, "Sure Thing," in which a man (Tom Lodge) tries to pick up a woman (Heather Osborne) in a restaurant, seems more like an acting exercise in which, at the sound of a bell, each character says the opposite of whatever he or she has said a moment before. More effective is "The Philadelphia," a skit about getting trapped in metaphysical states, er, cities, such as "a Los Angeles" (laid back) or "a Philadelphia" (frustrating).
And, though all of these pieces are language based, "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," comes closest to being merely a sight gag as we watch Trotsky (Lodge) cavort about with an ax stuck in his head on the last day of his life.
Ah, but then there are those monkeys (Atkins, Lodge and Osborne). Unquestionably brighter than the unseen researcher who's studying them, their greatest fear is that they'll evolve into him -- a man who couldn't hammer out "Hamlet" if he had two infinities in which to do it.
Ives has a marvelously playful way of looking at the world. But staging his work is much more than child's play. Fell's Point Corner has the tricky timing of "All in the Timing" down pat. The result, to put it in Unamunda, is "Zoopa flan! A-plotz!", which translates (I think): Super fun! A-plus!
'All in the Timing'
Where: Fell's Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Ann St.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Feb. 25
Tickets: $10 and $11
Call: (410) 276-7837