Philosophers have long pondered one of life’s deepest enigmas: Would a monkey, randomly and mindlessly pecking away on a typewriter, eventually produce Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”?
City Repertory Theatre will provide a glimpse at that imponderable, known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem, when it stages David Ives’ “All in the Timing” from Thursday June 17 through Sunday June 20 at the black box theater inside Flagler Auditorium. While City Rep has been staging outdoor productions in Palm Coast since September 2020, the Ives work – a collection of seven one-act plays no longer than 20 minutes each – will be the troupe’s first indoor show since the pandemic began.
Whether it’s the three chimpanzees of “Words, Words, Words” discussing the crafting of high literature, the miniature-golf-as-metaphor-for-sex shenanigans of “Foreplay, or The Art of the Fugue,” or the multiple replays of murder in “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” the “All in the Timing” one-acts are soaked in bizarro scenarios. That makes Ives – at least in this case – a heir apparent of that mid-20th-century movement known as Theater of the Absurd, peopled by the likes of Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter and their forefather, Italian modernist Luigi Pirandello. Those playwrights were psychologically sympatico with the French writer-thinker Albert Camus, who asserted in “The Myth of Sisyphus” that “at any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”
Or, as the now-70-year-old Ives told The New York Times in 1994 soon after “All in the Timing” premiered Off-Broadway, his works often attempt to capture “the weirdness of being alive.” And, Ives proffered, the human mind can grasp, or endure, the absurd only in small doses at any one time, hence his love of the short one-act form.
Indeed, City Rep’s staging of “All in the Timing” is itself an absurd act, given that absurdist works are presented by Northeast Florida theaters about as often as the Queen of England performs Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP.” The company’s mantra – and mojo – is stated on its website: “You won’t always see your favorites here, or the same-old same-old staid theatre standards. CRT offers alternative entertainment: plays and programs to provoke the mind and the spirit . . . . We’re the only theatre of our kind in Northeast Florida.”
“I think David Ives did a good job writing pieces that were absurd but also relatable,” says “All in the Timing” director Beau Wade, whose prodigious acting and directing credits, with CRT and other troupes, make him the hardest working man in area theater. “Anybody watching will be like ‘I get what you’re going through. You’re talking about love. You’re talking about money. You’re talking about relationships. You’re talking about sex.’ These are things that all of us as adults understand, so he just takes it and is able to twist it in fun ways to where each piece is very energetic.
“The thing I worry about more for the audience, more than them not understanding, is them leaving a little bit emotionally overwhelmed because of the amount of different themes and subject matters they are going to go through in two hours.”
The City Rep cast, in league with critics and fans of Ives’ work, applauds the playwright for his clever and masterly explorations of language.
The one-act “English Made Simple” is “like a training video where you have an announcer voice-over,” says Phillipa Rose, a City Rep veteran who, like all of the eight-member cast, is performing multiple roles over the seven pieces. “That voice in the sky is teaching you how to interact with another person. It introduces our conversations and how we are going to relate to each other. There’s a lot of play on language and how things are phrased and how you can say the same phrase differently and it has a different meaning. It’s a very, very interesting show.”
“Sure Thing” is about a man and a woman meeting for the first time in a café, and the different ways a love connection can succeed or fail. Each time one says something that derails the other’s interest, a bell rings and the scenario is reset, giving the couple a new chance at romance.
“The bell is almost like the ninth star of the cast,” says actor Danno Waddell, if not the star of emergent occasions for whom it tolls.
“Universal Language” is “all about language and how if we all spoke the same language would any of us be lonely,” Waddell says. “I speak a different language throughout most of it, so I had to learn the fictitious language of Unamunda. I’m speaking it fluently. I’m dreaming in Unamunda. It’s scary.”
“Words, Words, Words” plays with language in a different way as the three chimps – named Milton, Kafka and Swift – “are debating what are the chances of us actually writing ‘Hamlet,’ and we don’t even know what ‘Hamlet’ is,” says actress April Whaley. “I think it’s one of the smartest scenes because there are so many references to literature, to authors, to Shakespeare. That’s something that John was drilling in our heads: ‘Do you know what this is a reference to? Do you know what this is a reference to?’ It’s a very funny scene and very cleverly written.” (She was referring to John Sbordone, City Rep co-founder and artistic director.)
Waddell compares Ives’ cleverness to “Easter eggs” – those semi-hidden allusions, clues or inside jokes that creators place within movies, TV shows or video games: “If you see it, if you get it, then it’s just a little extra bonus. If you don’t, then the absurdity of the idea is still funny in and of itself.”
Marisa Glidden, who performs in “Word, Words, Words,” says “there is almost a prophetic nature to Ives’ ability to see the connectedness and all the complications of all of our relationships, and how little fingers of relationships can get so complicated now because of technology. But even when technology wasn’t around, people were still constantly back and forth, miscommunicating and having different ways that they react to each other.
“Every one-act has such an interesting twist. It’s almost like another present to open, another surprise gift, a surprise party.”
“All in the Timing,” says Whaley, “is a nice blend of slapstick and elevated language.”
“It’s definitely theater in a way that I think most people don’t anticipate theater being,” Wade says. “Not even just the fact that this is a series of vignettes. People go into theater expecting one cohesive narrative, and even if they are vignettes, they are like ‘OK, I get to see the interconnectedness.’ Even though I feel like all these pieces are connected, they are very disparate.
“Ives is trying to get across what Marissa said – how we are connected to each other, and the different ways that comes across, whether it’s on a putt-putt golf course or as a monkey kept in a lab.”
“Sure Thing” and “Seven Menus,” about the evolving relationships of a circle of friends, each feature the entire cast: Rose, Glidden, Whaley, Waddell, Anna Hobbs, Joshua Childers, Brent Jordan and Minas Fakrajian.
“All in the Timing” will be City Rep’s first indoor performance since the pandemic hit, but performances will be in the black box theater of Flagler Auditorium rather than CRT’s black box home venue at City Marketplace in Palm Coast.
“The Flagler Auditorium space is larger than ours,” Wade says. “Not much in the way of seating capacity, but it’s got a little bit more floor space. So, even though we’re not really trying to get a lot more audience members, we’re trying to give them a little bit more space, a little bit more comfort since we’re still coming out of the pandemic. But more people are vaccinated, and a lot of people are taking trips outside nowadays.”
However, stagecraft considerations also played a role in the choice of venue.
“Performing outdoors (both before and during the pandemic) has always been fun, and there are shows that it can really work for,” Wade says. “For ‘The Crucible’ (which CRT staged in April at the outdoor pavilion of the Palm Coast Arts Foundation), there were a few nights where we had thunderstorms that made it impossible for the audience to hear. In a show like ‘The Crucible’ you don’t really need to hear all the words because you’re getting the feel, you’re getting the intensity.
“But in a show like this it’s only about the language. So if the audience isn’t hearing the language, they’re not getting the jokes and they won’t understand the themes. So doing this indoors was kind of imperative. We’ve always had a good relationship with Flagler Auditorium, and so this is a nice way to forge that even further. We might do more stuff over there.”
–Rick de Yampert for FlaglerLive
“All in the Timing” by David Ives, directed by Beau Wade, at City Repertory Theatre. CRT will stage “All in the Timing” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday June 17, Friday June 18 and Saturday June 19, and at 3 p.m. Sunday June 20. Performances will be in the black box theater inside Flagler Auditorium, 5500 S.R. 100, Palm Coast (at Flagler-Palm Coast High School). General admission tickets are $20, students $15, and are available by calling 386-585-9415, or going online at crtpalmcoast.com or Eventbrite. Audiences will be socially distanced and are asked to wear masks.