It’s All in the Timing
Review by Sean McQuaid
Your scattershot scribe enjoys short-form compilations. Whether it’s old Disney “package films” like The Three Caballeros and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad or vintage anthology comic books like Adventure Comics and 100-Page Super Spectacular, I’ve always liked variety in my entertainment.
My hankering for patchwork productions extends to theatre, and Charlottetown has hosted many a fine assemblage of one-act plays. Among the finest to date: It's All in the Timing, staged at the Guild this March as part of The Prince Edward Island Pay-What-You-Can Theatre Festival.
First off, the festival itself is a wonderful idea. Affordable, accessible, professional-quality theatre is a great thing to see on PEI, especially in the oft-inactive winter months. What the PWYC festival collective is doing here is art, yes, and it’s satisfying entertainment, but it’s also commendable community service.
Happily, Timing satisfies in terms of both quality and quantity. The Guild’s similarly excellent 2015 set of short Pinter plays featured some of the current PWYC creative team, but that show’s three plays barely filled an hour. All in the Timing’s six plays roughly double that running time, a fuller evening of theatre and a better bargain even before you factor in PWYC’s audience-friendly pricing.
Featuring plays penned by David Ives between 1987 and 1993, All in the Timing premiered in 1993 and was published in 1994. A later expanded edition of the print version included 14 Ives plays, with 1997’s Mere Mortals among the additions. The PWYC production features five of the six original plays, replacing the 1993 show’s Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread (1990) with Mere Mortals.
Sure Thing (1988) features potential couple Bill (director Adam Brazier) and Betty (Melissa Kramer) meeting in a cafe, where the scene pauses and resets repeatedly as it cycles through dozens of possible outcomes. It’s fast, funny and well-played, though Kramer’s projection could use a boost in spots.
Variations on the Death of Trotsky (1991) is a darkly surreal comedy starring oddball provincial treasure Graham Putnam as Russian revolutionary Trotsky, fatally wounded by an axe lodged in his head, pondering life, death and his legacy as he dies multiple times. Hilarious, disturbing and oddly poignant, the play (directed by Mark Fraser) boasts strong support from Catherine O'Brien and Fraser McCallum as Trotsky’s wife and killer, respectively.
The Universal Language (1993) features eager student Dawn (Becca Griffin) learning bizarre nonsense language Unamunda from sketchy tutor Don (Donnie Macphee). It’s great fun from start to finish thanks to Ives’ deliriously inventive wordplay and a pair of thoroughly charming leads directed by Catherine O'Brien.
Mere Mortals, directed by Brazier, casts Putnam, Macphee and Lennie MacPherson as seemingly ordinary construction workers hiding some very strange secret identities. The script, direction and performances all combine for a superbly-paced slow burn as the story’s weirdness escalates, all while preserving its heroes’ blue collar personalities. All three actors are great in this, especially MacPherson.
The Philadelphia (1992) stars Brazier/Putnam/Kramer, directed by Marlane O’Brien, in a fun, well-played little oddity about a man trapped in a Philadelphia-inspired alternative reality of sorts where you can’t get anything you want.
He’s almost as frustrated as the simian stars of Words, Words, Words (1987), directed by Fraser, in which three lab monkeys (Griffin/McCallum/MacPherson) are forced to type endlessly in hopes of randomly replicating Shakespeare. It’s a smart, funny script with plenty of nifty physical monkey business from the cast, especially top banana Griffin’s oft-hilarious, eerily convincing chimp-like facial & vocal tics.