Many years ago, back in another century, I was a student here in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I think what terrified me most about studying the difficult craft of acting was the amount of memorization involved. I was always afraid I would forget a line of dialogue and look foolish myself, while leaving some fellow thespian hanging. Thus I have always admired actors who can master difficult scripts while making it all look easy. There was plenty of that in Texas last week when I attended the premier of Town Center Theatre’s courageous current production of David Ives’ award-winning comedy, “All In The Timing.”
I say “courageous” because the tasks set before this cast of brave actors are both difficult and highly unusual. You see, each cast member was required to be prepared to perform every role in the show’s six one-act plays, which have been aptly described as “short, comedic and sometimes absurd.” Prior to curtain, the actors (Franz Hill, Alison Luff, Santry Rush, Ivy Rush, Micah Stinson, and Ben Warner) joined the co-directors (Joseph Milillo and Chris Tennison) onstage, and drew lots to see which actors would perform which parts for this first performance. This random selection process will be repeated at each performance, so come prepared for the fun, but don’t expect to see exactly the same show that I experienced on opening night. A further caution is that this piece is quite experimental in its structure and could disappoint those of conservative theatrical tastes who find edgy theatre not to their liking. Likewise, the set (a fine backdrop depicting scenic designer, Rod Flower’s excellent caricatures of each member of the cast) is minimal to say the least. The show might actually work better in a more intimate “black box” theater of the kind the company’s enthusiastic young managing director, Aaron Stryk, hopes to one day have available for such productions. The show advertises “This play contains mild language. It is not recommended for younger or more sensitive viewers.” That said, I would think it highly interesting, for budding actors of high school age, as an opportunity to see fine actors stretching their creative limits in a very challenging play.
Some merrily jazzy and eclectic pre-curtain music included such selections as “Crazy Rhythm,” “Cielito Lindo,” and an amusing German version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Then it was Showtime for the “Sure Thing,” with its rapid-fire dialogue epitomizing the kind of script memorization skill these actors would display throughout the evening. Talented actors, Ben Warren and Ivy Rush, played a gal and guy who meet for the first time in a café. For reasons perhaps known only to the author, a third character known simply as “The Bell,” (Franz Hill) sits reading a paper in the corner and sporadically ringing the bell on his table. Every time he rings that bell the young couple abruptly shift gears to change the scene and create some whole new dynamic for this first-encounter of boy-meets-girl. Once the audience gets into the swing of this nonsense it is actually quite amusing.
Next came Micah Stinson, masterfully portraying a con-artist professor who purports to teach Unamunda, “The Universal Language,” to his first pupil, played with delicious naiveté by Alison Luff. The pair bring plenty of facial and physical humor to the equation, and get a bit of help from Ben Warner, playing the “Young Man” in the piece. Fans of Pig Latin will love the gibberish and word play in this segment. And for further zany word play, don’t miss the “Words, Words, Words” that brings you to intermission with Miss Rush, Mr. Hill and Santry Rush portraying three monkeys who undertake to write Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” If that’s not crazy enough for you, stick around for the hilarity of “Mere Mortals,” as three rugged construction workers (Stinson, Warner, and Hill) take a comical lunch break high atop a steel girder while trying to convince one another they are actually such famous persons as the Lindbergh baby, Marie Antoinette, or Alexi Romanoff, son of Russian Czar, Nicholas and his wife Alexandra. For further mirth, Hill, Luff, and Santry Rush reunite in “The Philadelphia,” a kind of Twilight Zone where you can never get what you want. Luff gives us a Carol Burnett-style waitress who is so hilariously pregnant she uses her belly for a snack tray. Need I say more?
The final segment was the less satisfying and overlong, “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.” With Warner as the ill-fated Trotsky, Ivy Rush as his wife, and Santry Rush as the assassin, Ramon, this scene depended on slapstick to support a repetitious series of death scenes that seemed tiresome to this viewer. Happily, what went before it was much more fun.
”All In The Timing” runs through May 18th, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available at $25 for regular patrons and $20 for students and seniors age 55 or over; discounts are available for subscribers and groups of 10 or more. For tickets, call (832) 592-9697. Audience members who make a donation in support of local libraries by bringing one new book or more with them to the performance will be given one complimentary ticket to ”All In The Timing.”