What to compare "All in the Timing" to? It's off-putting, perhaps, to liken it to scat singing or Bach. After all, this is from the author of the fascinating and puzzling "Venus in Fur", done at the Rep in 2013. David Ives' work returns to town at St. Louis Actors' Studio in the form of six one-act plays. In every one of them, all comedies, Ives plays with the concept of time - but in very different ways.
His primary tool is words - words and one of those little hand bells seen decades ago on hotels' front desks. The way he uses them in some of these pieces really is reminiscent of music without notes, the rhythm, the repetition - for example in "Sure Thing", the opening piece about two people, Emily Baker and Ben Ritchie, who meet in a coffee shop. After a while, the rhythm sweeps along like a stream. A rocky stream, perhaps, it's certainly not snooze-inducing, but it's certainly apparent.
Physical comedy prevails in "Words, Words, Words", bringing Ritchie, Michelle Hand and Shaun Sheley into a lab where they are chimpanzees that an optimistic researcher is hoping will write Hamlet. The language wafts between ape and English. (Swift, played by Ritchie, uses a particularly charming Bronx accent.) Another riff of words arrives with "The Universal Language" with Baker paired this time with Sheley. The rapidity of the dialogue is like scat singing without the melody, semi-comprehensible and fun. Overall, it's an excellent ensemble working with a deeply complicated script, and they carry it off almost flawlessly.
Patrick Huber's set pays homage to the famous Dali melting watch, time dissolving rather than just slipping away, a constant reminder of what we're going through. His lighting, more subtle, works well, too. Elizabeth Hellman's direction keeps things moving smoothly and gives impeccable timing.
It's a fine, sophisticated piece of work. It's even funnier if you know who Phillip Glass is.
All in the Timing
through October 5
St. Louis Actors' Studio