The Ives Six Pack
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
May 11, 2006
The short plays of David Ives are really a godsend for fledgling theater companies. They’re short, cleverly written, simple to produce, and give actors a lot to work with. Because they also come in such a variety of styles, Ives’s plays also are a great way to quickly learn where a company’s strengths lie.
In the case of the Bang Theatre Collective, physical comedy and sheer exuberance seem to be their angle. Their inaugural production, The Ives Six Pack, presents six of Ives’s short plays, “an evening of one-acts in one act,” as they call it. Even though I was very familiar with three of the pieces—I ran lights for another company’s Ives evening four years ago, and even stood offstage making monkey noises for the cause at one point—Bang Theatre’s approach is fresh enough that I often found myself laughing anew at familiar material.
The company’s staging of Words, Words, Words is one such example. Ensemble members Vinnie Penna, Ted Lewis, and company founder Gregory Abbey play three monkeys in a research facility who are daily locked into a room with three typewriters to test the premise that they might by chance eventually type out the script to Hamlet. It’s such a clever premise that the play is an Ives standby, but I’ve never seen actors throw themselves into the physical possibilities of the parts with such zeal. Penna in particular is especially good at, er, aping simian body language, scratching himself absentmindedly and using a bowlegged chimplike gait or outright somersaulting across the stage at some points.
Ensemble members Marc Thompson and Kathleen McInerny are other standouts, even though they are obscured by wings, goggles, and antennae in Time Flies. The pair are funny—and strangely sweet—as two courting mayflies who are suddenly confronted with their mortality. Both spend the whole piece with masks made of pipe cleaners and glasses over half their faces, but both are also so wonderfully expressive that within minutes the pipe cleaner proboscises become extensions of their own features.
The company as a whole is so physically expressive, in fact, that trying to curb that talent might be a mistake. I was a surprised to find a weak spot in The Mystery at Twicknam Vicarage, a spoof on English drawing-room mystery dramas. The ensemble seem to be throwing themselves into it gamely enough, but it falls a little flat alongside the other pieces; ultimately, the material itself is the culprit, as it simply doesn’t show off the cast to their best advantage. The pieces Sure Thing and The Philadelphia give each of their casts more to work with, but the ensemble still seem to be happier in motion; the whole of Philadelphia is a metaphysical conversation between two men at a restaurant, but both actors cast keep jumping up as their characters speak and pace the stage as they make their points. Conversely, Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread offers its cast the chance to do an all-out spoof of interpretive dance and modern opera—and the zanier they can be, the better they are.
Directors James Snyder and Anthony Salerno wisely use a minimalist approach to the production, placing the actors and the material itself center stage. Time Flies is arguably the most technically complex of the pieces with its mayfly “costumes,” but even here there is a charming scaled-back approach—the company even adds a sweet epilogue onto the story simply through the use of a pair of shadow puppets.
The Ives Six Pack makes a fine introduction to a new company; one I’m hoping tackles more physical work in the future.