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Mere Mortals

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David Ives' evening of imaginatively amusing plays, All in the Timing, ran for two years Off-Broadway and was seemingly produced everywhere else. Contra-dicting the comedy axiom that timing is everything, the six one-acts of Mere Mortals lack the former collection's consistently high quality.

Ives is particularly fond of the theory of alternate universes. In Foreplay or the Art of the Fugue, we see three different versions of a character named Chuck on a first date with three different women at three different stages in life. The title one-act is even flightier, as, 50 stories up, three Manhattan construction workers on a girder argue with one another that they are the reincarnations of famous people. Closing the first act is Time Flies, in which two mayflies learn from David Attenborough, filming a documentary at the female's pond, that they have a lifespan of only 24 hours. JoBeth Prince soars here, whether looking goofily orgasmic when her antennae are being rubbed or appreciative when offered a leaf to dry her tears. This piece gets off the best lines of the night, including having mayfly Horace (a generally too broad Daniel Kanter) passionately exclaim how much he worships her, "from your buggy eyes to the thick, raspy hair on your legs." Alas, the ending is a throwaway, neither elegiac nor a joke.

The often-parodied David Mamet gets a nice skewering in Speed the Play, as a Chicago men's club does high-speed, ultra-abridged versions of four of his plays, each miniature scene punctuated by a bell. All volleys hit their foul-mouthed targets here, and director Erik Engman does his best work, keeping the barbs and scene changes flying. Dr. Fritz or the Forces of Light is Ives' most surreal piece, as a tourist (Kanter) searches for medical help from a character who is alternately German, Hispanic, brutal, obsequious, and generally insane. Dee Amerio Sudik has a great deal of fun with this wild characterization. Finally, moving toward a more grounded, poetic work, Ives concludes with Degas, C'est Moi, in which a man spends all day wandering about New York City, pretending he's a great Impressionist artist and not just a poor, unemployed schmuck. It's a nice change of pace for the author and the evening, which, perhaps in a parallel theatrical universe, could hit its mark a bit more often.

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