On one front, mainstream American satire’s loss was theater’s gain during the late 20th century. You could see it coming amid the foothold playwright David Ives would create with his short-form scripts — his sense of wordplay and his insights into the human condition are an unbeatable combination.
If he’d wanted, he could have become a star reporter and commentator, taking his rightful place among the Dorothy Parkers and Art Buchwalds of the world.
Nah. Instead, we have great stuff like All in the Timing, a series of six 15-minute plays that reflect Ives’ absurdist acumen and his delight in exploration of the American moré. The original 1993 off-Broadway piece featured six stories; host North Coast Repertory Theatre has chosen to exchange ‘‘The Philadelphia’’ for an addition — ‘‘Foreplay, or the Art of the Fugue’’ (leave it to Ives to skewer the folly behind putt-putt golf and rumors about a race of dwarves that once covered the earth).
‘Go!! Go! Go! Go! … Philip! Glass! Is! A! Loaf! Of! Bread!’
Beyond that, North Coast’s six stage personnel and director David Ellenstein tear into Ives’ material as if they’d written it themselves.
Remember the saw about the chimpanzees that under the right conditions could be expected to eventually retype Hamlet word for word? Ives takes the idea literally in his ‘‘Words, Words, Words’’ — three chimps named after renowned authors (Omri Schein, David McBean and Uma Incrocci) sally about the pointlessness of it all while reserving the right to admire their handiwork (‘‘I like the ‘ffft, ffft, ffft,’’’ one says; ‘‘Yeah, kind of onomatopoeic,’’ agrees another).
‘‘Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread,’’ which has taken on a life of its own on the collegiate theater level, features Schein as the so-called minimalist composer (Glass has 12 symphonies to his real-life credit) who seeks a bakery’s staple item in vain. The bread could be construed as Glass’ quest for romantic happiness, but the insanely staccato language gives rise to second thoughts (i.e., ‘‘Go!! Go! Go! Go!. . . Philip! Glass! Is! A! Loaf! Of! Bread!’’).
Then there’s the show-closing ‘‘Variations on the Death of Trotsky,’’ wherein the Marxist revolutionary’s head sports the clunky mountain climber’s ax that accompanied him in death in 1940 over 36 hours’ time (hint: The script’s one giant sight sketch; Trotsky dies a million times, and he was actualy killed with an ice pick, formidable though it was).
The unlikely romance on the heels of a commercial con game in ‘‘The Universal Language’’; life’s linguistic twists and turns amid a simple bell-ring cue in ‘‘Sure Thing’’; the playwright’s lifelong expertise in rhythmic concoction (he wrote his first play at age 9): Noelle Marion, Christian Pedersen and Taylor Renee Henderson join the other three performers in a symphony of worldviews on the public condition atop Marty Burnett’s secondhand set (heh-heh), in Elisa Benzoni’s distortional costumes and astride Matthew Novotny’s lights and Aaron Rumley’s sound.
Indeed, ‘‘symphony’’ is less a figure of speech here. A sea of information attests to the idea that we’re hard-wired for music, with its colossal rhythmic spectrum and richness of subtext — and whether he knows it or not, Ives (who’s worked in musical theater for 25 years) has capitalized on this preoccuptation, to the extent that The New York Times has dubbed him a ‘‘maestro’’ of the short form.
But in an interview with Charlie Rose, the native Chicagoan assumed a professor’s guise in explaining his affinity for written humor. ‘‘Intellectual content is fine,’’ he said, ‘‘but a really good original joke is a very rare thing, and so I go mining for those things more than anything else. . . To be serious about serious subjects is somehow redundant, I guess.’’
That’s an enormously refreshing equation, one that now has North Coast’s horses behind it. Please do see this funny, exuberant piece, whose eccentricities somehow sanction our own.
This review is based on the performance of April 18. All in the Timing runs through May 5 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987-D Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. By popular demand, a matinee will be mounted at 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 1. $44-$49. northcoastrep.org, 858-481-1055.