March 16, 2013

"Ann" and "All in the Timing" Make Me Smile

Sometimes you just need a good laugh.  At least that’s how I’ve been feeling over the past couple of weeks as I’ve gone from one disappointing show to the next.  I usually tack towards dramatic plays about meaty subjects but I found myself craving something lighter that might remind me of the simpler pleasure that going to the theater can be.

Thankfully, tucked in between all the duds were two small shows that offered just that (along with some smiles and even a few belly laughs). They are All in the Timing, the collection of comedy sketches by David Ives that is playing in a Primary Stages production at the 59E59 Theaters through April 14; and Ann, Holland Taylor’s paean to the life of the Texas politician Ann Richards that opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater last week.

I’d had my doubts about both.  The playlets in All in the Timing (which include one about three monkeys in a lab testing the theory that if they sit at a typewriter long enough one will end up writing Hamlet and another called “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread”) sounded to me like onstage versions of the kind of skits you might see on “Saturday Night Live,” which I’ve never watched a complete episode of during its 38 years on air.  Meanwhile, one-person shows like Ann tend to be my least favorite form of live entertainment.

But, as I said, I was desperate for a good time and the word of mouth on both shows promised that each would deliver that.  And so they did.

What sets the skits in All in the Timing apart from the average variety-show routine is Ives, who is wickedly smart and has a fondness for both highbrow wordplay and lowbrow slapstick. The combination in All in the Timing proves irresistible. And a couple of the skits—a man tries to pick up a woman at a cafe, a lonely woman enrolls at a shady language school—manage to touch the heart even while tickling the funny bone.

John Rando, the Tony-winning director of Urinetown and, more recently, of A Christmas Story, is a master of comic timing and he keeps the action moving along at a suitably snappy pace.

Big kudos also have to go to the five-member cast, all of whom are terrific. But first among equals are the wonderful Jenn Harris, who is even more hilarious than she was in Silence! The Musical; and the rubbery-faced, loose-limbed Carson Elrod, who has operated under the radar in supporting roles in shows like Peter and The Starcatcher and Noises Off but delivers a breakthrough performance here that draws the big laughs in scene after scene.

The man sitting in front of my friend Joy and me was so delighted with the whole thing that he bounced in his seat like a five-year-old who’d been expecting spinach for dinner but got double scoops of chocolate ice cream instead.  I appreciated the sugar rush too.

The laughs were gentler at Ann but the evening was just as entertaining.  Holland Taylor, most familiar form her TV stints in shows like the CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” wrote the play herself after spending years doing research on Ann Richards, the big-haired, quick-tongued mother of four who became governor of Texas.  Done up in a white wig and one of the big-shouldered power suits that Richards used to favor, Taylor is a dead ringer for the governor.

She and her director Benjamin Endsley Klein have carefully calibrated the onstage action so that, unlike too many one-person shows, you don’t hanker for someone else to come on (click here to read how they did it).  Indeed Taylor’s performance so fills the huge stage at the Beaumont that it’s easy to forget that you’re watching a show and not somehow eavesdropping on Richards herself.  She makes good company and so do both of these shows.

1 comment:

Julie said...

I very much enjoyed Anne as well, but I wouldn't have minded had Julie White popped onstage for a scene or two!