Before his “Venus in Fur” made Broadway shockingly sexy, David Ives already was a master of the comic miniature. The six blackout sketches that make up “All in the Timing” prove the point today as sharply and concisely as they did when the show had its premiere 20 years ago.
Ives sees the absurdity in things we often find ourselves wondering about. You may recall the theory that a monkey in a room with a typewriter, given infinite time, will eventually tap out “Hamlet.”
In “Words, Words, Words,” three chattering chimps are locked in an observation room overseen by a professor out to prove the point. Their literary monikers (Swift, Kafka, Milton) notwithstanding, the monkeys don’t know what a Hamlet is and are more interested in frequent sex and bananas, while occasionally admiring their literary output (“I like the ‘fft fft fft!’”).
In “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread,” Ives is more parodist than comedian in a scene that finds the composer in a “Twilight Zone” bakery right out of one of his minimalist operas.
“All in the Timing” is witty and literate, but I’d forgotten how sweetly sentimental it is, as well. In “The Universal Language,” a shy woman with a stutter is the sole prospective student showing up at a classroom to learn “Unamunda,” the made-up language of a con artist. The trip to their mutual salvation is worthy of a Sid Caesar or Robin Williams monologue-on-speed.
Eric Clem, Carson Elrod, Jenn Harris, Liv Rooth and Matthew Saldivar show themselves to be masters of the quick change, the slow burn and the slapped stick. Under the sleek direction of John Rando, the comedy is piffle of the highest order.
Kirsten Greenidge’s “Luck of the Irish,” the latest offering from LCT3, Lincoln Center Theater’s developmental program, doesn’t need any more developing. What it needs is a bigger theater. It’s a spellbinding show.
The setting is a comfortable home in suburban Boston. In the late 1950s, a black doctor, Rex Taylor, wants to move his family into this restricted enclave. Through an intermediary, he pays Joe Donovan, an Irishman of considerably lower social stature, to purchase the home in his name and then sign it over to the Taylors.
A half-century later, Taylors’ granddaughters share the house when Donovan’s aged wife comes to claim it as her own.
The Taylors, she says, using a phrase that recurs through the play with increasing pointedness, borrowed the Donovans’ Irish luck, and the time has come for restitution.
The play flows -- poetically, under Rebecca Taichman’s masterly direction -- between the two periods, with overlapping scenes that build in tension. In one brutal confrontation late in the play (which actually has two full acts, a rarity these days), Rex’s wife Lucy (Eisa Davis, smoldering with both elegance and rage) meets in a coffee shop with Joe’s angry wife Patty Ann (Amanda Quaid, her face a topography of bitterness).
She wants more money for the favor they are doing. She particularly resents the fact that blacks have jumped the social ladder-climbing by moving ahead of the Irish.
“There’s an order to things,” she says. Lucy tersely shuts her down: “You won’t push us out, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she says, barely containing her own fury.
It’s an electrifying moment in a play that’s wise not merely about race but about equally complicated notions of family and legacy.
Simply designed by Mimi Lien (set) and Justin Townsend (lights), “Luck of the Irish” is ready for a much bigger audience, though the intimacy afforded by Lincoln Center Theater’s Claire Tow Theater makes it the best $20 you can spend so far in this new year.
Through March 10 at the Claire Tow Theater, Lincoln Center. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Patrick Cole on music.
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