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First Nighter: Ives' All in the Timing, Moran's All the Rage All to the Good

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Look through theater annals and you learn that many playwrights hailed for highly huzzahed first or early productions don't live up to the welcoming hoopla. As a friend of mine once phrased it only slightly pretentiously, "Early adulation can lead to later embarrassment."

So it's a great pleasure to note that David Ives isn't one of the legion who've come croppers. Since his reputation-making entry, All in the Timing -- now revived at 59E59 under John Rando's superbly comic direction -- he's shown enduring prowess with plays as impressively varied as Polish Joke (also directed by Rando), The School for Lies, New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza, the stage adaptation of Irving Berlin's White Christmas (we forgive him for that) and, most recently, Venus in Fur.

Let's just say he's more than fulfilled the 1994 promise. It holds up stunningly 19 years on, as brought back to hilarious life by a troupe of expert players. Leading them is the bent-pencil-brilliant Carson Elrod, with just as admirable support from Matthew Saldivar, Liv Rooth, Eric Clem and the sublime Jenn Harris -- lately of Silence! The Musical, but don't hold it against her.

On Beowulf Boritt's striped, forced-perspective set -- the back wall of which is initially decorated by six clocks -- Ives tosses up six confetti-like one acts. The first of them, "Sure Thing," has Bill (Elrod) encountering Betty (Rooth) at a coffee shop or the like and keen to start a conversation. He does, but within seconds, a buzzer goes, and he starts his pitch again and then again and again -- each time slightly reshaping the pick-up.

You'll guess the eventual happy ending, but that's no spoiler since you've already figured out Ives intends this to be a wry romcom. On the other hand, you can only begin to imagine how neatly Elrod and Rooth play the two halves of the wonderfully evolving exchange.

In "Words, Words, Words" -- the quote is, of course, from Bill Shakespeare's Hamlet -- Elrod, Rooth and Saldivar are three chimpanzees named Swift, Kafka and Milton. Their shenanigans are triggered by the old saw about putting monkeys at typewriters where, given time, at least one will tap out the aforementioned famous play. Dressed brightly by Anita Yavich and running around with long arms and knees bowed, the actors begin quoting from the classic under scrutiny without noticing what they're saying.

Whether they do recompose the Danish tragedy won't be revealed here. What can be told is that the clock on the wall during their three-way romping says "Thursday, April 23, 2016," which is the 400th anniversary of Will's death. Who cares whether the idea for that sight gag belongs to Ives, Rando or Boritt? It's a good one.

"The Universal Language" -- which may be the most memory-challenging playlet ever written -- has Elrod as Don teaching Harris' Dawn a universal language that may or may not be Ives' bow to George Bernard Shaw's Esperanto. Most of the lickety-split dialogue is in a made-up lingo that derives much of its humor from Ives' occasionally inserting an incongruous English word. That Elrod and Harris bring the stunt off with such elan is nothing short of astounding.

For "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread," Ives decides to mimic in words the idiosyncratic style of the title character's compositions. Rando matches the verbal folderol with synchronized movements for Elrod as Glass and Saldivar, Harris and Rooth as accommodating bakers. Among the inspirations here in a gigantic baker (Clem on stilts? On someone's shoulders?) dispensing loaves of bread into a breadbasket.

In "The Philadelphia," how to deal with those days when everything goes wrong is discussed by Elrod, who's having one of them, and by Saldivar, who's having a day where everything feels right and is therefore a "Los Angeles." Harris is a couldn't-care-less waitress dealing with both the good times and bad.

The curtain-lowerer is "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," in which Saldivar and Rooth portraying Mr. and Mrs. Trotsky enact what amounts to variations on the curtain-raiser as the Russian political theorist is dying serially from a hatchet embedded in his head. It was placed there the previous day by their Spanish gardener, Ramón Mercader (Clem). Based on historical fact, the sketch strays merrily from the record. although not with results as giddily successful as the five easy pieces that precede it.

Ives calls the plays cumulatively All in the Timing -- the expression is employed repeatedly in "Sure Thing" -- but they could just as convincingly be offered under a title like Word Play. Time may be of Ives' essence here, but fooling around with the language in any way he can think up -- he's always thinking -- is just as frequently an entertainingly recurring theme.


Speaking of titles with "all" in them, Martin Moran's affably energetic All the Rage at the Peter Jay Sharp is a sequel to The Tricky Part, his sensitive confessional about how he was able to forgive the older man who years earlier had molested him.

After appearing in that play for some time, he noticed he was repeatedly confronted with the same question: Why hadn't he dealt with the anger he must have felt? He realized the people quizzing him assumed he was repressing his feelings. As a result, he decided to get to the bottom of whatever he was feeling.

With the use of a large map on Mark Wendland's set where a desk is prominent and a screen showing Bart Cortright's projections, he lopes about cheerfully seeking evidence -- while talking about a difficult stepmother, an emigrant whom he was helping acclimate to his new life, his acting career. Ultimately, he figures out that -- well, that's the point of the monologue, isn't it?

The conclusion he reaches will convince some spectators he's a happy and reasonable man. Others will wonder if what they've seen is someone in heavy denial. The upshot could be that Moran's discourse is most effective at causing individuals to look at their own attitudes towards rage. Is it inevitable in certain circumstances or only one of several options?