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All in the Timing

Carson Elrod delivers a star-marking turn in Primary Stages' revival of David Ives' clever collection of short plays.

Liv Rooth and Carson Elrod in All in the Timing
© James Leynse
Comic timing – the perhaps innate ability to have a word or physical gesture elicit an even greater laugh than might be expected – is a particularly valuable resource to possess in the theater. Playwright David Ives first proved to many theatergoers that he had it 20 years ago with the premiere of his clever, often hilarious collection of six short plays, All in the Timing, now being revived at Primary Stages at 59 E59 under John Rando's fleet direction. And two decades later, these carefully constructed sketches, which highlight Ives' fascination with language, are still to be savored. Even when they occasionally miss their mark or wear out their welcome, the skits put most of the recent writing of Saturday Night Live to shame.

True, the average SNL viewer might not get "Philip Glass Gets a Loaf of Bread," a short musical satire of the minimalist composer's pretentious works, or get much out of a chuckle from "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," in which we see the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky (Matthew Saldivar) -- with a mountain axe prominently stuck in his head – trying to cope with the knowledge that August 21, 1941 is his last day on earth. And yes, "Words, Words, Words," in which a trio of talking monkeys named Milton (Saldivar), Swift (Carson Elrod), and Kafka (Liv Rooth) deal differently with their frustration in being part of a scientist's experiment to see if they can randomly type Hamlet, benefits somewhat from one's knowledge of classic literature.

Still, you don't have to be a great intellectual to fully appreciate any of the show's pieces. Certainly not the delicious opener, "Sure Thing," in which two strangers (Elrod and Rooth) replay their first meeting in a café with dozens of small changes until a romantic connection is forged; the amusing "The Universal Language" in which a shy, stuttering woman named Dawn (the invaluable Jenn Harris) loses some of her inhibitions while being taught a language called "Unamunda" by a slightly goofy professor named Don (Elrod); or the brilliantly executed "The Philadelphia," in which a surly waitress (Harris) encounters two friends (Saldivar and Elrod) who are having less-than-normal days.

Set designer Beowulf Boritt once again works his magic, finding innovative, yet often simple, ways to quickly change each setting. Anita Yavich's evocative costumes add immeasurably to the evening's pleasure. And while the entire ensemble (which also includes Eric Clem in a trio of brief appearances) dives headfirst into the material with brio, it is Elrod, whose enthrallingly endearing mix of vulnerability and slight smarminess, allows him to shine brightest. Switching characters with ease during the briefest of scene changes, Elrod manages to inhabit each of Ives' creations, fully relishing their linguistic and physical challenges.

All in the Timing proves to be the sort of showcase that could – and should – vault this hard-working actor into stardom. So SNL, pick up your phone and start dialing his number now. Remember, timing really can be everything.