THE BLOG
02/07/2013 03:29 pm ET Updated Apr 09, 2013

Playright David Ives: The Degrees of Separation Between Stephen Sondheim, Roman Polanski and Me

Before I reveal all 10,003 degrees of separation between Sondheim and me, let me assure you that it's all in the timing, which also happens to be the title of David Ives' first hit show, originally staged 20 years ago by Primary Stages for Off-to-On-Broadway 603 performances. It's now enjoying a deliciously laugh-out-loud funny, gloriously hilarious, 20th anniversary celebration thanks to the dazzling direction of John Rando, who just received well-deserved raves from every New York Newspaper, including the ultra-kvetchy Times, for his masterful handling of A Christmas Story, The Musical.

One might say David Ives -- one of these degrees -- stumbled into his life. At the age of six, he was entertaining his family with James Cagney imitations, wrote his first play when he was nine, considered becoming a priest, attended the Chicago Seminary School where he was "taught by very funny, encouraging and eccentric priests, so giving up the priesthood and becoming a playwright was only a half-step." After graduating from Northwestern University, he worked as an editor for Foreign Affairs magazine for three years before going back to school, receiving his MFA from the Yale Drama School a few years later.

Ives has produced a multi-faceted, complex body of work including a new translation of Feydeau's farce, A Flea in Her Ear: New Jerusalem, based on the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza; School For Lies, a brilliant verse version of Molière's Misanthrope and Venus in Fur, which won a Tony in 2012 for its Venus, Nina Arianda. He has also been a contributor to Spy Magazine, has written humor pieces for The New York Times and The New Yorker and was named one of the 100 Smartest New Yorkers by New York Magazine, "a curse I am trying to live down! I don't know how I got on that list. My mother may have given them ten dollars." What number was he? "They took the coward's way out and batched us." And in between, Ives kept bread on the table re-writing 33 plays for Encore! -- a company which presents wrongfully forgotten musicals at City Center. "They're fun to write because they allow me to cut out the worst part of the books."

His first professional play, Canvas, was performed by the Circle Repertory Company in 1972 when he was 21 and he continued to write serious plays for the next ten years. "Then I got a job writing a script for Hollywood where I made a little money and maybe life seemed funnier after that." In the late 1980s, his one-act comedies began to appear in the Manhattan Punch Line's yearly one-act play festival and six of them eventually developed enough of an attraction to coalesce into All in the Timing,, an amusingly serious, quirky commentary on contemporary life vis-a-vis six 10-15-minute-long completely resolved off-the-wall plays. Sure Thing, the opener, deals with a man and a woman trying to connect in a coffee shop. Do they? Not until they finally say the right thing at the right time.

Watching the second Ives one-acter, Words, Words, Words, was the most hilarious 12 minutes I've ever spent. "It may be the funniest things I've ever written," Ives agrees. After digesting the concept that three monkeys typing until infinity would eventually produce Hamlet, Ives reveals his scenario of what they said and did in the interim. The chimps, Milton, Swift and Kafka, act like the offspring of Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio if they were guests on the Sid Caesar Show. The chimps are funny as hell... or peopl ... as they eat, argue, groom each other, copulate and masturbate, but also present a commentary on ambition and relationships. "If a play is not about life, or doesn't have something larger to say than the words that are conveyed by it, what's the point of writing it." Another playlet envisions the City of Brotherly Love as a trap where everything one wants or needs is unavailable -- alas, unfortunately true. There's also Ives' boredom with Philip Glass' repetition, the qualitative death throes of Leon Trotsky and the desire of the disconnected to connect through a made-up language.

And the acting can only be described in one word: Incredible! Particularly Carson Elrod, Matthew Saldivar, and Liv Rooth as the hopefully eventually erudite monkeys and other persona.

Future ventures? Sondheim and Ives are working on a musical that springs indirectly from a moment in an Ives play that caught Sondheim's fancy -- another example of masterful timing. As for Roman Polanski, he's making a French film version of Ives' Venus in Fur. After 40 years of working his ass off, David Ives has found himself in a nook that's the antithesis of between a rock and a hard place: "Between a marshmallow and a pillow?"

How else do I connect with such luminaries? In 10,000 other ways, the amount of my entire life's savings which I invested in A Christmas Story, the Musical, which Rando helped turn into a hit, and which may actually be paying back the investors shortly or at least I hope so.

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