Cast Has A Blast In Surreal, “Twilight Zone”-esque Comedy, “All In The Timing” At STLAS

Ben Ritchie and Emily Baker ponder their next move in STLAS' "All In The Timing." Photo: John Lamb

Ben Ritchie and Emily Baker ponder their next move in STLAS’ “All In The Timing.” Photo: John Lamb

How can you not have fun being one of a trio of monkeys trying to write “Hamlet?” Or a living Trotsky contemplating why he has an axe through his head? Or how about Philip Glass trying, existentially, to buy a loaf of bread? All this and more shatters time and space in David Ives’ “All In The Timing.” And St. Louis Actors’ Studio, with a quartet of polished actors and a hip director make it the “must see” comedy of the year.

“All In The Timing” is a sextet of ironic, short one-acts that all tie together with timing. Expecting to hear “Let’s Do The Time Warp Again,” we travel through this series of surreal situations where time stands still or moves at either ¬†halting or accelerated speed to bring us an absurd cast of characters. And, of course, the title suggests, timing is everything and these actors have got their timing down precisely to tackle the rapid fire dialogue- some of which is just this side of nonsense- as they milk every laugh from this hilarious script.

Michelle Hand and Shaun Sheley try to "publish or perish" in "Words, Words, Words" in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Michelle Hand, Ben Ritchie and Shaun Sheley try to “publish or perish” in “Words, Words, Words” in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

In “Sure Thing,” Emily Baker as Betty sits quietly reading a book at a coffee shop when Ben Ritchie as Bill enters and asks if the other chair at her table is taken. As the dialogue ensues, an off stage bell rings and they begin their conversation again with different results. As we travel around and through this ever-changing conversation, we realize that the result will be inevitable but the real journey is getting the there as their dialogue “times out” until that result is achieved. Next we see Ben Ritchie again with Shaun Sheley and Michelle Hand as three erudite monkeys who are “going along” with a scientist experimenting with the timeless tale of putting a monkey and a typewriter together and hoping that, eventually, he (or she) will produce something profound (such as “Hamlet”). Although they move and act like monkeys, their personal communication indicates they realize the task but either write gibberish or deep thoughts unrelated to the task at hand. One even starts out typing the opening of “Hamlet” but then wanders into other Shakespeare verse before giving up altogether.

Our four actors sing the praises of bread in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Our four actors sing the praises of bread in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Closing out the first act is Emily Baker as a shy, stuttering student, Dawn, who hopes attending a class in learning a new “universal language,” Unamunda, will help her out of her shell and maybe into the arms of her teacher, Don, played by Shaun Sheley. This has to be the most difficult piece to memorize because of the unpredictability but alarming astute sounds of the language- which reminds us a lot like English but just slightly off kilter. While Don speaks it “trippingly off the tongue,” Dawn soon masters it herself, even though it’s nothing but nonsense again. Their timing is impeccable which makes it even more amazing as we soon begin to understand every word they say.

It's not always sunny in "The Philadelphia"- part of STLAS' production of "All In The Timing." Photo: John Lamb

It’s not always sunny in “The Philadelphia”- part of STLAS’ production of “All In The Timing.” Photo: John Lamb

As unpredictable as a piece of his music, we find Shaun Sheley’s Philip Glass portrayal mesmerizing as he enters a bakery attempting to buy a loaf of bread. The baker and two admiring women join him in a short oratorio on the benefits of being Philip Glass, the qualities that make for a good loaf of bread and various other idiosyncratic themes that echo the wandering scores of his music. In “The Philadelphia,” Mark (Ben Ritchie) compares the kind of ill luck his friend Al (Shaun Sheley) is having to that city of Brotherly Love. We find out that Mark is really in a Los Angeles kind of happy mood while the waitress in the little diner (Emily Baker) is obviously in another “city.” Again, we enter the time and space continuum to explain our moods and feelings.

Closing out the evening is “Variations On The Death Of Trotsky.” Shaun Sheley’s Trotsky discovers he has an axe firmly embedded into his skull thanks to the astute observation of his wife (Michelle Hand). Time traveling through an anachronistic wasteland, they, along with Ben Ritchie’s Ramon (Trotsky’s killer) use everything from the Encyclopedia Britannica to personal observations on their inevitable fate to ask why this has happened. So an evening of absurd themes centering on “All In The Timing” comes to a close with a journey we’re not likely to forget ourselves as time, inevitably, goes on.

Trotsky can't believe he's discovered an axe in his skull in "All In The Timing" at St. Louis Actors' Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Trotsky can’t believe he’s discovered an axe in his skull in “All In The Timing” at St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Photo: John Lamb

Director Elizabeth Helman has a deft hand for comedy as she makes perfect sense out of David Ives’ warped take on history, relationships and life in general. Patrick Huber has given us an unbelievable set design featuring billowing clouds in a blue sky as the backdrop and a Salvatore Dali-like clock face melting over the front edge of the stage floor. His lights play an integral part as well. Carla Landis Evans’ costumes are a great combination of unity and humor while director Helman has added a provocative sound design.

This play opens St. Louis Actors’ Studio season of “The Best Medicine” in fine fashion. These four actors, Emily Baker, Michelle Hand, Ben Ritchie and Shaun Sheley, use pin-point timing and an inherent feel for comedy to bring us one of the most hilarious evenings we’ve spent in the theatre this season. It runs through October 5th and I urge you to call STLAS at 314-458-2978 or contact them at stlas.org for tickets or more information.

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