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A CurtainUp Review
Mere Mortals and Others
By Elyse Sommer
Ever since his wildly popular compendium of comedic playlets All In the Timing David Ives has attracted a following of audiences smitten with his dizzying sendups of famous and ordinary mortals. The mere mortals in the title piece of his latest line-up of six comedies are three construction workers whose lunch high up on a building girder turns into a zany contemplation of who they think they really are. The mere mortal of the final piece is a man who spends a day roaming Manhattan convinced he is Degas.
The problem with any new Ives assemblage is the inevitable comparison to All In the Timing. It's like a younger brother entering the school where his brilliant, super popular older brother preceded him. And, like many such younger brothers, Mere Mortals and Others has many of the older brother's strengths--including the original director, John Rando--but they don't quite match the role model. The six new pieces (actually, only two really are new) zoom away full of vinegar and sass, but they tend to stagger as often as they soar.
In terms of timing, the plays are as quick as ever and the idiosyncratic landscape Ives examines is almost as varied as Timing. There's even a brand-new anthropomorphic piece, Time Flies. In it, Ives cleverly juxtaposes a David Attenborough "Nature" documentary with the romance of two mayflies daffily and delightfully decked out in glittery winged outfits by Anita Yavich and cannily portrayed by Annie O'Sullivan and Arnie Burton. Realizing that they are the doomed subjects of the commentary, May and Horace decide to spend their single day of life making love. Their getting-to-know-each-other dialogue is spiced with such Ivesian word play; as Horace asking "any other mayflies in the neighborhood?" and May's reponse of "Only wasps." The romance heats up with such pillow talk, (or should we call it leaf talk?) as May's "I want to palpate your proboscis."
For those unfamiliar with Ives' previous work, the prime example of his impeccably timed wit is the on-the-button Speed-the-Play. Within the framework of a lecture by a cigar-smoking cross dresser, Ives adroitly and with lightning speed spears four of David Mamet's best known plays including , of course, Speed-The-Plow. This spoof was actually written more than six years ago as a commission by Lincoln Center in conjunction with a tribute to Mamet.
Foreplay or: The Art of the Fugue was probably chosen to lead off the evening because it is more of a complete small play than the other pieces. It uses a miniature golf course as a setting for three seductions--no double-up performances, but six actors playing the three couples. While the same routine with variations could use editing, the counterpoint finale is indeed worthy of Bach.
The six-member cast gives a strong reading to even the weaker moments of the plays. Willis Sparks, Danton Stone and Arnie Burton perfectly capture the linguistic nuances of three construction workers in the title piece. Nancy Opel manages to be hilarious in the less than hilarious and long-winded Dr.Fritz or: The Forces of Light. Degas, C'est Mois is interesting in that it's less sharp-edged and less hit-them-over-the-head one-liner funny. It is also notable for Russell Metheny's sets which serve all the plays well, but are particularly effective here.
Before closing, it's worth noting that as we post this review focusing on one writer's very particular sensibility, a feast of one-acters by a variety of playwrights is currently being dished up at various locations throughout the city. These include another Ives Play The Universal Language paired with Harold Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, at Center Stage 48 W. 21 St, 212/ 760-4977(until 5/20); Buffalo Kill: Two Brutal Comedies by Rooster Mitchell at the 29th Street Rep, 212 W. 29th St. 212/465-0685; and .a series of short plays by Lois Weaver and Peggy Shaw at La Mama E.T.C. 74-A E. 4th St. 212/475-7710. There's also the annual showcase event for creators and aficionado of the one act plays, the Ensemble Studio Theatre's annual one-act Marathon. It's presented in three Series (5/06-18; 5/21-6/01; 6/04-6/15) at 549 W. 52nd St.,212/248-3405.