There’s no better respite from this summer of political discontent than David Ives’ “Time Flies and Other Plays” - a cocktail, a picnic, a lark, a stylish, heady flight of urbane humor, sophisticated staging, stellar ensemble acting, and pitch-perfect direction. Did I mention lots of laughs?
Barrington Stage’s selection of six of Ives’ comic one-acts, first staged between 1991 and 2015, is wonderfully curated beginning with the hilarious title play in which two mayflies, after picking each other up at a bar, discover their life cycle of one day will be concluding in a few hours. Ives’ humor hints of the British: Stoppard’s braininess but less dense, Coward’s wit but less acerbic and Pinter’s absurdity but less obtuse. Ives’ imagination has an American forthrightness, his comedy a frothy mix of quirky mirth, charming nonsense and idiosyncratic humanness.
Mike Nichols observed that plays are about one thing but really about something else. The theme of mortality is never more comically tackled than here. In “Time Flies”, it’s clear we’re mayflies, too. In “Variations on the Life of Trotsky”, a ridiculously egotistical Trotsky, with ax in his skull, refuses to acknowledge how history has recorded his demise. How will we be remembered? (And who cares how?) In “Life Signs”, a society matron awakens from death to share with her son and daughter-in law silly details of a lesbian affair and the anatomical assets of her male lovers, then succumbs for good in a meaningful, final good bye.
Besides death, Ives plays well with notions of identity and reality, too, and brilliantly at that in "Enigma Variations” where a Mrs. Doppelgangler with her doppelganger seeks treatment from a doppelganger pair of doctors. The ensemble of five - four in exactly synchronized, coupled dialogue and movement (the odd-man-out is office nurse) - is best here, as is Tracy Brigden’s inspired direction. In “The Philadelphia”, two male patrons in a restaurant, served by a wise-ass waitress, switch states of mind - one happily, one not so much.
Comic versatility is uniform throughout the cast. The most familiar to Berkshire audiences are BSC veterans Debra Jo Rupp and Jeff McCarthy. Rupp is as good at being a mayfly as she is Trotsky’s wife, but I don’t know how she keeps a straight face playing dead with the nonsense going on around her in “Life Signs”. McCarthy in nurse drag (in “Enigma Variations”) - a 1950s, all white uniform of shoes, sheer stockings, dress and starched cap accented with Barbara Bush pearl necklace - gets laughs even before he gets to his lines. Cary Donaldson and Carson Elrod, both back to BSC, are excellent as double docs in “Enigma Variations”. Ruth Pferdehirt, a BSC newcomer, is fabulous at it all: doppelganger lead, flummoxed daughter-in-law, dumb-as-dirt femme-fatale, and gum-snapping waitress.
Costumes by Elivia Bovenzi are witty, sassy, and funny, especially the winged, antennaed, Sixties-style mayflies. Set and lighting design are simple walls and backdrop of Mondrian-style panels that accommodate pastel-colored lighting schemes – just the right panache.
The final one-act, “The Mystery of Twicknam Vicarage”, is an English drawing room murder mystery spoof. For the doyenne noble, the sexpot, the cleric and the police investigator, it’s not so much who done IT but more who done HIM, as in who HADN’T screwed the dead guy lying on the rug. This delicious scenario concludes with the query “Anyone for sex?”. “Time Flies and Other Plays” is just as much fun as that. Well, almost.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!