If you studied acting at school, you’ve probably heard of David Ives, the New York playwright whose one-act absurdist comedies are often chosen by teachers looking for short, straightforward material for their students. Yet if you ever found yourself actually trying to act in one of Ives’s pieces-and keep a straight face-you know it’s anything but easy.
This weekend, DIJO Productions kicks off a two-week run of Ives Lives, an evening of Ives’s one-acts at Center Stage Theater, and even managing director Jerry Oshinsky acknowledges it is challenging stuff. “We got laughing in rehearsal and we couldn’t stop,” he admitted in a phone interview last week. “We have to get that under control.”
The piece in question was The Mystery at Twicknam Vicarage, a spoof on the classic British murder mystery, and one of Ives’s lesser-known one-acts from his 2001 collection Time Flies. “It’s got these faux English accents that are intended to be bad, which is good, since mine is terrible,” Oshinsky explained, the very thought of it making him chuckle.
Ives is best known for his earlier collection of one-acts, All in the Timing, from which DIJO will draw more than half of the evening’s seven works, none of which is more than 20 minutes long. As the collections’ titles suggest, Ives’s plays tend to deal with questions of time-conflating it, repeating it, and doubling it back on itself. For the purposes of this show, Oshinsky and director Ed Giron chose pieces that also deal with language, one of Ives’s main themes. From The Universal Language, in which a love affair is conducted in an imaginary dialect, to Words, Words, Words, in which three chimpanzees with typewriters attempt to produce Shakespeare’s Hamlet, these are plays for those who appreciate wordplay, tangled meanings, double entendres, and the sheer lunacy of the spoken word.
This is not the first time DIJO has presented Ives’s shorts in Santa Barbara-in fact, DIJO did a number of them in 2007-but during the past couple of years the company has taken on heavier pieces. “A lot of the things I’ve acted in or directed recently have been a lot more serious,” Giron said, citing two of DIJO’s biographical productions: The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer, based on the life of the man known as the father of the atomic bomb, and Fifteen Rounds with Jackson Pollock, in which the artist watches as his career and his life disintegrate. “You walk away from those things thinking a lot about what caused their falls from grace,” Giron said. “This year we’re facing some fairly serious economic times, and I think people can use some escapist fare-something absurd and riotously funny.”
What, exactly, makes these plays so funny? “They are ridiculous situations to begin with,” he said, citing one play in which Leon Trotsky wanders around discussing the circumstances of his death with the infamous ice pick protruding from his skull. But short and comic does not mean easy. When asked how difficult Ives’s one-acts were to act in and to direct, Giron replied, “I’d say they are extremely difficult. If we pull it off well, it will seem easy in performance. But in terms of the skill required, I think it’s quite high. There’s one piece that requires the actors to make 25 changes of character within 20 minutes.” Sounds daunting, but Giron said the actors love the challenge.
In addition to directing the show, Giron will appear in a number of the pieces. Oshinsky also acts in the show, alongside Deborah Cristobal, Deborah Helm, William York Hyde, and Carol Metcalf.
“Ed has a tremendous feel for the language in all of these plays,” Oshinsky said. “He’s an extraordinary director for plays that require an intense appreciation for language.” Oshinsky noted that although this is an evening of entertainment, many of Ives’s plays are also touching, even serious. “Other than that, it’s all about the words, the language, and the timing,” Oshinsky said. “We hope that as people are watching these plays, time flies.”
DIJO Productions presents Ives Lives at Center Stage Theater from June 20-July 5 with a preview on June 19. For tickets and show times, call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org. For more on the company, visit dijoproductions.org.