Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Applause! Applause! Review of The First String Players' production of All In The Timing at Our Lady Of Mercy Roman Catholic Church by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The First String Players' production of All In The Timing at Our Lady Of Mercy Roman Catholic Church was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 6 (2016) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

All In The Timing
Written by David Ives
Directed by Stef Morisi
Produced by Paul Morisi
Our Lady Of Mercy Roman Catholic Church
70-01 Kessel Street
Forest Hills, New York 11375
Reviewed 1/8/16  

All In The Timing is a collection of one-act plays written by David Ives between 1987 and 1993. It premiered Off-Broadway in 1993 at Primary Stages and was revived there is 2013. It was first published by Dramatists Play Service in 1994, with a collection of six plays, which has since been updated and expanded to include fourteen plays. The short plays focus mainly on language and wordplay, the complications involved in romantic relationships, and existentialist perspectives on the meaning of life. Any theater company agreeing to produce this play must promise to include at least six of the fourteen plays. The First String Players included Sure Thing; A Singular Kinda Guy; The PhiladelphiaWords, Words, Words; Variations On The Death Of Trotsky; and The Universal Language.

In Sure Thing, a man comes into a cafe and tries a pick-up line on a woman reading at a table. He promptly gets rejected and we hear a bell ring offstage. The scene resets and the man tries a different line to achieve his goal. Bill (Jeremy Lardieri) and Betty (Amy Rubinson) don't want to appear desperate or dorky and the bell allows them to re-speak until they finally connect with one another. Sometimes each speaks the same formerly rejected line but at a time that is more acceptable in the particular context of the conversation. "I bet you're a Scorpio" draws the bell as does "No, I don't have a girlfriend. Not if you mean the castrating bitch I dumped last night." The entire collection of plays may have been named based on something the characters discussed in Sure Thing. Contemplating why you respond as you do to a potential romantic partner, they concede that "you may not have liked him before - it's all in the timing. You have to hit these things at the right moment." Sure Thing is a study of what lines might work and which ones fail to achieve their goals. It enables audience members to make psychological observations as well as linguistic ones. 

In A Singular Kinda Guy, Mitch (Johnny Culver) reveals to the audience he has realized he is an Olivetti 250 model typewriter that is slowly being replaced by word processors. He finally found out who he is and he's already an antique. All is not lost, however. Mitch eventually meets a woman, who turns out to be a piece of paper. A perfect fit!

In The Philadelphia, you are taken to a place where American cities are personified by various difficulties. Mark (Jeremy Lardieri) complains to his friend Al (Chris Martens) over lunch that he hasn't been able to get what he wants all day. The pharmacy had no aspirin, the newsstand didn't  have the Daily News, and a taxi driver said he couldn't take him where he wanted to go. His friend Al explained, "Physically, you're in New York; metaphysically, you're in a Philadelphia" where "no matter what you ask for, you can't get it." Al goes on to explain that "the whole city of Philadelphia is trapped in a Philadelphia and they don't know it." The rule of thumb when you are trapped in "a Philadelphia" is to ask for the opposite of what you want, and then you'll get it." We later learn that being in "a Baltimore" is practically the same thing as being in "a Philadelphia" and that Al woke up in "a Los Angeles" where losing his wife and job no longer mattered to him. His plan is to turn it all into a script. In the end, we learn that the Waitress (Victoria Lardieri) has been "stuck in a Cleveland all week." What is being in "a Cleveland" like? The waitress explained, "It's like death without the advantages." 

In Variations On The Death Of Trotsky, we are exposed to a repetitive sight gag of Leon Trotsky (Johnny Culver) sitting at a desk with a mountain climbing axe having been smashed into his head by Ramon (Chris Martens), his Spanish gardener (who actually did some good by making beautiful flowers grow in his garden). Mrs. Trotsky (Lori Santopetro) is reading to him an account of his assassination from an encyclopedia, which indicated he was assaulted on August 20, 1940, and died the next day. Although unconscious in a hospital bed, Trotsky contemplates the question of why the Spanish gardener killed him and his own amazement that a person could have a mountain climbing axe smashed into his head, and yet, still survive for another day.

Dawn (Bethany DeMarco), a shy, stutterer is drawn to the promise of a universal form of language called Unamunda, which Don (Jeremy Lardieri), a con man, agrees to teach her for only $500.00 cash. In The Universal Language, the absurd basic components of Unamunda are Wen, Yu, Fre, Fal, Fynd, Iff, Heven, and Waitz. The new made-up language substitutes proper names, brand names and distortions of familiar foreign phrases to make up new words ("Harvard U" means "How are you?; "Velcro" is "Welcome"). Dawn, who believes "language is the opposite of loneliness" learns Unamunda quickly, loses her stutter, and is soon making up new words that grammatically fit in with the fake language. Student and teacher soon engage in a lively mating dance (perhaps the language of love) where each uses Unamunda and reach a climax of ecstasy. Now in love, Don confesses he is a fraud and can't take Dawn's money. He doesn't want her looking like a fool when she attempts to speak Unamunda in front of other people. Dawn doesn't give up and tells Don that eventually others will show up to learn the language. At that point, a slubberdeguillion (Steve Morisi) shows up inquiring how he can learn Unamunda. 

The premise of Words, Words, Words is that "three monkeys typing into infinity will sooner of later produce Hamlet." Putting aside the interchangeable references to monkeys and chimpanzees, Swift (Chris Martins), Milton (Loramarie Muratore), and Kafka (Amy Rubinson) occasionally spout bits of literary philosophy before returning back to hooting and bouncing up and down. They also discuss their circumstances. Should they revolt or comply and be considered collaborators? If they do succeed and write Hamlet, will they be freed or forced to participate in yet another frustrating, tedious project? 

This production of All In The Timing was well-acted, very entertaining, and hilariously funny. Jeremy Lardieri was the strongest, most talented member of the cast by far, although everyone else pulled their own weight. There were no loose links in this enthusiastic ensemble. This is the first time I saw a production of The First String Players and I must say I was very impressed. They got most of the things I care about right. Admission was only $10.00 (They could probably charge $15.00 without anyone batting an eye). Concession items were only $1.00 and they ran a 50-50. There is general seating and a raffle containing items donated by some of their sponsors. I highly recommend you check out this company and its future productions at www.FirstStringPlayers.org 

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