"All in the Timing" Summary

One Act Plays by David Ives

David Ives, playwright
The Huntington/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

All in the Timing is a collection of one-act plays written by David Ives. They were created and conceived throughout the late 1980s into the early 1990s, and although each short play stands on its own, they are often performed together. Here is a summary of my favorite plays from the collection.

"Sure Thing"

"Sure Thing," a ten-minute comedy by David Ives, was created in 1988. About five years later, one of my favorite movies, Groundhog Day (starring Bill Murray) was released.

I have no idea if one inspired the other, but I do know that both story lines feature an incredible phenomenon, one I often wish I could tap into. In both stories, events recur over and over again until the characters can finally get things not just right but perfect.

The concept of "Sure Thing" feels similar to an improvisation activity known in some circles as "New Answer" or "Ding-Dong." During this improv activity, a scene unfolds and any time the moderator decides that a new reply is warrant a bell or buzzer sounds off, and the actors back up the scene just a bit and invent a brand new response.

"Sure Thing" takes place at a cafe table. A woman is reading a William Faulkner novel when she is approached by a man who hopes to sit next to her and get better acquainted. Whenever he says the wrong thing, whether he hails from the wrong college or admits to being a "mama's boy," a bell rings, and the characters start anew.

As the scene continues, we discover that the bell ringing isn't just responding to the male character's mistakes. The female character also states things which are not conducive to a "meet cute" encounter. When asked if she is waiting for someone, she at first replies, "My husband." The bell rings.

Her next answer reveals that she plans to meet her boyfriend to break up with him. The third response is that she is meeting her lesbian lover. Finally, after the fourth bell ring, she says that she is not waiting for anyone, and the conversation progresses from there.

Ives' short play makes me so thankful that I am not single. His comedy reveals how difficult it is to meet someone new, pique his/her interest, and say all the right things so that the first encounter is the beginning of a long, romantic happily ever after. Even with the magic of the time-warping bell, romantic start-ups are complicated, fragile creatures. By the time we get to the end of the play, the bell ringing has forged a model love at first sight — it just takes a long time to get there.

"Words, Words, Words"

In this one act play, David Ives toys with the "Infinite Monkey Theorem," the notion that if a room full of typewriters and chimpanzees (or any kind of primate for that matter) could eventually produce the complete text of Hamlet, if given an infinite amount of time.

"Words, Words, Words" features three affable chimp characters that are able to coherently talk to each other, much the same way bored office co-workers may socialize.

However, they have no idea why a human scientist has forced them to stay in a room, typing for ten hours a day until they recreate Shakespeare's most beloved drama. In fact, they have no idea what Hamlet is. Still, as they speculate on the futility of their career, they do manage to spout a few famous Hamlet quotes without ever realizing their progress.

"Variations on the Death of Trotsky"

This bizarre yet humorous one-act possesses a similar structure to that of "Sure Thing." The sound of the bell signals that the characters will start the scene all over again, offering a different comical interpretation of Leon Trotsky's final moments.

If you haven't brushed up on the history of the Soviet Union lately, you may be asking "Who is Leon Trotsky?" According to expert Jennifer Rosenberg:

"Leon Trotsky was a Communist theorist, prolific writer, leader in the 1917 Russian Revolution, the people's commissar for foreign affairs under Lenin (1917-1918), and then head of the Red Army as the people's commissar of army and navy affairs (1918-1924).

Exiled from the Soviet Union after losing a power struggle with Stalin over who was to become Lenin's successor, Trotsky was brutally assassinated in 1940."

Ives' play begins with the reading of a similarly informative entry from an encyclopedia. Then, we meet Trotsky, sitting at his writing desk with a mountain climbing ax smashed into his head. He does not even know that he has been mortally wounded. Instead, he chats with his wife and suddenly falls over dead. The bell rings and Trotsky comes back to life, listening each time to details from the encyclopedia, and trying to make sense of his last moments before dying yet again… and again… and again.