by Barbara Waldinger
In Time Flies and Other Comedies, Barrington Stage Company draws from the canon of David Ives, a playwright crowned by The New York Times as “maestro of the short form,” owing to the quality of his one-act plays. The evening features six sketch comedies, varying between silly and clever, brought to life by a cast of formidable comic performers.
The plays have been selected from three of Ives’ compilations: All in the Timing, Lives of the Saints, and Time Flies and Other Short Plays. There were a couple of dozen plays to choose from but the basis for these six selections is unclear.
Two of the plays could have been replaced by stronger one-acts from the collections. The Mystery at Twicknam Vicarage, as the title suggests, is a parody of Agatha Christie murder mysteries, replete with a dead body at a formal dinner party, a Scotland yard inspector, multiple suspects. . . but the comedy goes off the rails with suggestions of copulation between the victim and various pieces of furniture and rugs. Enigma Variations is a real challenge for the actors, involving different combinations of doppelgangers, requiring each of four performers to mime the speech and gestures of his/her double. But aside from actorly acrobatics, the skit gets tired fairly quickly.
The four other plays are much more successful, unique and cleverly rendered. As a sample of Ives’ specialty: wordplay, Time Flies presents a mating dance between two mayflies out on a date, unaware that they only have one full day to live. Kudos to Costume Designer Elivia Bovenzi who dresses Horace (Cary Donaldson) and May (Debra Jo Rupp) in their fancy duds, with the addition of antennae, wings and tails. From their preferred after-dinner drinks (grasshopper, stinger or stagnant water) to their choice of movies (The Love Bug, The Fly, Travels with my Ant), these characters are funny and endearing, wonderfully embodied by Rupp and Donaldson, and we grieve with them when David Attenborough (Jeff McCarthy), dressed in safari jacket and binoculars, announces their impending demise.
Variations on the Death of Trotsky is just that: eight different versions of a conversation between Leon Trotsky (Carson Elrod) and his wife (Rupp) in Trotsky’s Mexican study, as they attempt to analyze an encyclopedia entry describing Trotsky’s imminent murder by a Spanish Communist posing as a gardener (Donaldson). The physical and verbal comedy is laugh-out-loud outrageous. Elrod, who has performed in All in the Timing and Lives of the Saints Off-Broadway, is the most brilliant comic actor gracing our Berkshire stages. Remember his incomparable portrayal of a robot in Williamstown Theatre Festival’s The Chinese Room (2016) and his bumbling lawyer in Taking Steps at Barrington Stage Company (2017)? Fortunately he is back to entertain us once again this season.
Debra Jo Rupp, following her remarkable tour de force in last year’s The Cake, is hilarious in Life Signs as a corpse who can’t seem to decide whether or not she’s dead, to the consternation of her son (Elrod) and his wife (a terrific Ruth Pferdehirt). With its pricelessly frank sexuality, from the confessions of the mother, to the lascivious doctor (in a go-for-broke performance by McCarthy), to the couple, whose marriage may not be as perfect as it first appears, this play never fails to surprise.
Finally, The Philadelphia features Donaldson and McCarthy as customers in a restaurant served by Pferdehirt as a bored waitress who suddenly bursts from her lethargy in a lightning-fast dialogue. The quirky concept is that the characters, for no apparent reason, find themselves caught in various moods engendered by specific cities that determine how they see and communicate with the world. A shrewd and wacky gem!
The multiple sets, moved by black-clad stagehands, change for each play (as do Bovenzi’s perfectly designed costumes), backed by scenic designer Brian Prather’s modern art construction, with its twinkling squares lit by Matthew Richards’ colorful illumination, to the tune of Eric Shimelonis lively compositions. Director Tracy Brigden, with the help of a dream cast, keeps the evening light and quick. One has the feeling that she encouraged her actors to dive into their roles with abandon, for the onstage performers seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the offstage audience.
Time Flies and Other Comedies runs from July 5—27. Tickets may be purchased online at barringtonstageco.org or call 413-236-8888.
Barrington Stage Company and Hal Kramer present Time Flies and Other Comedies by David Ives. Directed by Tracy Brigden. Cast: Cary Donaldson, Carson Elrod, Jeff McCarthy, Ruth Pferdehirt, and Debra Jo Rupp. Costume Designer: Elivia Bovenzi; Scenic Designer: Brian Prather; Lighting Designer: Matthew Richards; Wig Designer: Mary Schilling-Martin; Original Music/Sound Designer: Eric Shimelonis; Production Stage Maager: Richard Lundy.
Running Time: two hours including intermission. St. Germain Stage, 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield, MA., from July 5; closing July 27.