All In The Timing
The plays of David Ives are certainly clever and comic. There is no doubt that Ives gives us inventive scenarios that smartly use language and test our knowledge before we chuckle. But what does it all mean, anyway? What do we gain from the techniques he uses in the one-act plays of All in the Timing? Are they meaningful works, or simply highfalutin vignettes? To answer these questions, let’s consider three of his plays: “Words, Words, Words,” “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” and “The Philadelphia.” By examining these works, it will be clear that the devices Ives uses do little more than facilitate the telling of humorous sketches, and that they don’t generate any substance or lasting meaning. “Words, Words, Words” is an organized riot. It rebels against reason and is highly contrived. The appeal is its situation: three articulate monkeys who have an ironic wit. Their dialogue is entertaining and makes a good extended joke – if you’re well-read and especially if well-versed in Hamlet. But for all of Ives’ inventiveness with scenario, he doesn’t take us very far beyond a chuckle. The monkeys hardly offer much insight into art, or how it’s created, which seems to be Ives’ intent. And it’s surprising too, since the monkeys seem to be educated, even though their education is somewhat random. The monkey Swift, for example, fears that they’ll have to write Joyce’s Ulysses, but still has no idea what Hamlet is. The other monkeys don’t either. Swift is also able to speak lines from Hamlet, but not type them, as when he questions, “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely—” (Ives 28). Of course this is meant to be ironic and humorous, considering the monkeys’ situation. This is the first of many clever Hamlet references. As the play progresses, Swift begins to parody Hamlet. This may be when Ives is at his best and worst. For he’s able to mirror themes from Hamlet, which gives his play...
Cited: Ives, David. All in the Timing. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
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