March 11, 2015

"Lives of the Saints" Has Its Own Virtues

On our way into Lives of the Saints, my theatergoing buddy Bill and I ran into a friend who told us that his wife had been in the hospital and he was eager to see something to take his mind off their ills. 

Our friend got what he was looking for with David Ives’ new collection of comic sketches, which are now playing in a Primary Stages production at The Duke on 42nd Street through March 27.

But Lives of the Saints offers a whole lot more as well. For Ives works like a master short story writer and packs a whole world of complexities into deceptively simple tales. 

Some critics have griped that the six pieces in this collection aren’t as laugh-out-loud funny as those in All in the Timing, the comic anthology that helped to make Ives’ name when it premiered back in 1993 and that had a terrific revival in 2013 (click here for my review). But Bill and I found several of the new works to be both amusing and affecting in their own right.

Running around 15 minutes each, Ives’ mini plays are unrelated, except by whimsy. In one, the lonely Maytag repairman falls in love—make that in lust—with a washing machine. In another, a man stumbles, "Twilight Zone"-style, onto the life he might have lead.

The best two are meditations on the meaning of mortality (the secrets we take with us to the grave, the bonds that even death can’t sever) but any heaviness is leavened by humor (a corpse in one keeps popping back to life and in the other, two women prepare enough food for a funeral breakfast that they could easily feed the multitude that gathered for the Sermon on the Mount).

As he did with All in the Timing, director John Rando provides pitch-perfect pacing (click here to read about their collaboration). And the cast of five (lead by the inestimable Carson Elrod) is, pound for pound, the funniest so far this season (and yes, I’ve seen both You Can’t Take It With You and It’s Only a Play).

Our worried friend was all smiles on his way out of the theater. And we were too.

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