By Amy J. Parrent
So, Hilberry, it's pretty smart putting a sketch about a notorious contemporary composer in front of a reviewer who was a professional musician. For me, what is not to like as actors perform a spoken-parody of Phillip Glass's music, an absurd bit in which the composer buys a baguette and runs into an old flame.
And that's not even the nuttiest premise in the medley of David Ives' one-acts now playing at the repertory company. That award might go to the dark-humored, goofy yet ultimately poignant piece about Leon Trotsky arguing with his wife and assassin over whether the axe in his head is buried there or just smashed against it.
The eight one-act plays, all originally written in the late 1980s and early '90s and collectively titled "All in the Timing," are tied together by the various meanings of, theories of and manifestations of time. There are the rhythmic, repetitive beats of the Glass piece. There are sketches where time is constantly reset, as in the opening "Sure Thing," about the many ways a first meeting with a potential lover could go, or in that dream of Trotsky's last hours.
As the evening opens, it appears this will just be a bunch of gags tossed out there, to see what yucks will stick. But somewhere through the second one-act, based on the proverbial monkeys with typewriters trying for Shakespeare, the questions become much deeper, the characters much more heartbreaking, as they grapple with the meanings of their day-to-day existence – or in the case of two very appealing but "lowly mayflies," their one day of life.
In such a strong ensemble, it's difficult to single out actors. Mary Sansone and Kyle Mitchell Johnson delivered the goods together in a double-header of plays. In the first, "The Universal Language," an insecure woman finds confidence thanks to a con man. The second, one of the most touching of the evening, is "Time Flies," about those two tiny insects realizing that life is short, so carpe diem. Even if you don't know what carpe diem means.
Brandon Grantz is engaging as everything from an author-monkey named Milton to a laid-back guy enjoying his own private "Los Angeles" in "The Philadelphia."
Santino Craven particularly shines as a swinger amongst a revolving group of friends dining at "Seven Menus," while Bevin Bell-Hall, Tiffany Michelle Thompson, Brandy Joe Plambeck and Annie Keris admirably take us through a range of characters, from swinging ad execs to adulterous Trotskyites, with a little David Attenborough, who's also obsessed with mating. And mating. And mating.
Director David J. Magidson set the nimble pace through often densely-worded dialogue. There were some tiny comedy-timing errors, first-night issues to be adjusted, for instance in "Sure Thing," when the actors rushed through some laughs and the next punch-lines got lost.
But hey, that happens. Sometimes your life seems a little mixed up, or backwards. You're just in a Philadelphia.
Go to the show. You'll get it.
'All in the Timing'
4743 Cass Ave., Detroit
2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 3 (post-show talkback)
8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 4 (pre-show discussion), Jan. 29
8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, Jan. 30
2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31
8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, Jan. 31