Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October 2004
The first time I ever encountered David Ives’ work I was quite horrified. But that was a big Main Stage production at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, with a big Main Stage price tag. Ives doesn’t write big and he isn’t meant to be taken in big doses. Now that I have encountered productions of his short, and often very funny plays, on the scale they were meant to be produced, I confess that he is growing on me. I particularly enjoy his romps with the English language, a nice example of which is included in Two Evenings and an Afternoon with David Ives, a trio of Ives’ one-acts presented by Mill City Productions.
The first of the three plays on offer is The Philadelphia, directed by Jason Bailey. The trick of writing a review of a very short play is that it is next to impossible not to give away the plot. I usually try to preserve some semblance of mystery so that my readers will get something out of the show when they see it. Suffice it to say that in this piece Ives uses the names and reputations of various cities to represent states of being – some plausible and some less so. He claims he came up with this concept during a particularly exasperating period living and working in the City of Brotherly Love.
Mackenzie (Sarah Simon) is trapped in a Philadelphia. Alexis (Melissa Carlson) is enjoying a Los Angeles. And the waiter (Mike Grogan) is in a terrible Cleveland. During the course of the play Alexis explains to Mackenzie the theory of the various city-named funks, while general hilarity ensues.
Carlson, looking lovely on opening night, positively glowed from the depth of her rose-colored Los Angeles, while Simon sputtered, then blossomed into control of her Philadelphia. Unfortunately the Philadelphia proves contagious. But in surmounting her current dilemma Simon offers comfort to Grogan and the two settle down to commiserate.
In Words, Words, Words also directed by Bailey, we enter the world of three chimpanzees locked in a room with word processors to prove the theory that three monkeys typing into infinity will eventually produce “Hamlet.” As a writer, I certainly enjoyed this one the most of the three plays. We writers are a masochistic lot who enjoy being compared to lower primates, or at least enjoy laughing at the premise.
The unseen scientist Rosenbaum has named his chimps Swift (Jackie DeGiorgis), Milton (Sam Therrien), and Kafka (Staci Downey), after the famous writers of those names. The script dictates that Swift and Milton are male while Kafka is female, but in this production all three are played by women, although DeGiorgis and Therrien wear the little boy chimp outfits Ives requires, while Downey wears a lovely conglomeration of sparkly, poofy stuff over her Victorian bloomers. I really felt that it a girl chimp selected her own clothes, she would have come up with a costume similar to Downey’s. We have Lauren Forbes to thank for this inspired bit of costuming.
There is not much in the way of a plot here. The chimps, who are obviously a sight more intelligent than Rosenbaum, discuss deep philosophical and artistic matters while taking occasional breaks for bananas and chest pounding. DeGiorgis gets to do most of the latter, to good comic effect. Her character, Swift, is definitely the alpha male of the group. Therrien’s Milton is the realist in the group, while Downey’s Kafka is seemingly the simpleton, although she makes an astounding break through at the final curtain.
It is not easy to play members of a different species, but these three ladies did a nice job. I accepted them as chimps savant, and was able to enjoy the premise of the piece without being distracted by under- or over-acting.
The final offering is Sure Thing, in which Ives explores all possible routes a conversation could take from the opening question “Is this seat taken?” Betty (Elizabeth Urban) sits at a table in a small café reading Faulkner. Bill (Tim Mangun) enters and enquires about the empty chair at her table. From there on each has a chance to say “ding” and change the course of the recent conversation. Needless to say, despite its many detours, this duet does have a happy ending.
Urban and Mangun, newlyweds in real life, are charming in this warm and funny piece directed by Mike Grogan.
Mill City continues to offer local amateur actors and directors a place to get involved with theatre for the first time, or stay involved while continuing to hold down day jobs, raise families, etc. This is a valuable service. And they continue to know their limits. Small cast one-acts that allow for flexible rehearsal schedules and demand little in the way of technical wizardry are good choices. Ives’ work is gentle, funny, and family friendly. I am just sad that this production was only running for one weekend.
Two Evenings and an Afternoon with David Ives will be performed October 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and October 24 at 2 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 59 Summer Street in North Adams. The show runs an hour without an intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Tickets can be purchased at the door. For more information visit the Mill City Productions Web site.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004