A Conversation With Playwright David Ives, the Mind Behind All in the Timing

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20 Jan 2013

Playwright David Ives
Playwright David Ives
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Playbill catches up with playwright David Ives, respected for his Venus in Fur, New Jerusalem, All in the Timing, Encores! concerts and adaptations of European classics — and that new show with Stephen Sondheim.


Although he already had two full-length plays running at Circle Rep, David Ives really arrived on the New York theatre scene in installments in the late '80s, sprinkling his witticisms around in the form of one-act plays at assorted festivals about town. When he gathered them up into a goofy six-pack on how we communicate and labeled it All in the Timing, it was "Open Sesame" to a long run.

That was 1993, this is 2013 — time for a 20th anniversary reprise of All in the Timing — so Ives' original sponsor, Primary Stages, is putting the show through the hoops again Jan. 23-March 17, in a new production directed by John Rando, the Urinetown Tony winner, and starring Eric Clem, Jenn Harris, Liv Rooth and a couple of rowdies fresh from Peter and the Starcatcher, Carson Elrod and Matthew Saldivar.

Two decades have taken author Ives in different directions — from Encores! key wordsmith to refried French farce to Nina Arianda, who won a Tony for Venus in Fur.

Here, he stops to reassess where he has been and where he is going.

Can you believe you've reached this age where you're being revived?
No, I'm not being revived — not yet. The plays are certainly being revived — not that it's C.P.R. that we're doing on these plays.

It's been surprising fun to go back to these plays. I thought it might be hard because I haven't done anything like this where I've revisited something after this length of time — and something that was so special because, at the time, no theatre in town accepted All in the Timing except Primary Stages. It had been turned down by every theatre in town.

I want names.
You can name your own names. They all turned it down — saying it was "uncommercial," "it couldn't possibly succeed," "wouldn't ever find an audience" — and we ran for 606 performances.

Also, these plays are not the kind of thing I'm writing anymore. I sorta stopped writing short plays in any serious way years ago, so it's interesting to see what I was doing back then and what I had on my mind.

Each one of these little plays were a little education in some particular aspect of theatre. The Universal Language is about how far you can go with people speaking gibberish. Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread — how much of a musical you can write in six minutes without having an orchestra. Each one of these was a challenge, and it's been nothing but fun revisiting them (knock wood).

The three chimpanzees trying to write Hamlet was called what?
Words, Words, Words. That was the first of the short plays that I wrote, actually — 1987, 26 years ago. And Sure Thing followed, and some of the others later on.


All in the Timing cast member Carson Elrod
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

I saw those at Manhattan Punch Line. I'm just so sorry it's not here anymore.
I know. I could partly write these plays because the Punch Line was there. They had that wonderful one-act comedy festival every year: three evenings of one-act comedies.

Did you migrate to Ensemble Studio Theatre, which is known for one-acts?
I did a few plays at EST, but the Punch Line really felt like my home, in a funny way.

I remember when I wrote Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread — it was written entirely in rhythm and laid out on four columns on the page — so I was completely frightened that [Punch Line co-founder and artistic director] Steve Kaplan wouldn't do a play written in rhythm. I took it in rather trepidatiously and said, "Steve, I've got a new play." He took it out of my hands and said, "Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread. I'll do it," and he put it in the "In" pile. It was as easy as that. It was only later on he realized he had accepted a play written in rhyme.


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