by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Don Stephenson
Featuring Judy Blazer, John Treacy Egan and Jill Paice
Paper Mill Playhouse
Millburn, NJ

(20th Annivrsary Production)
by David Ives
Directed by John Rando
Featuring Jenn Harris, Carson Elrod,
Matthew Saldivar, Liv Rooth and Eric Clem
Primary Stages at 59E59

Reviewed by David Spencer

Primary Stages’ 20th Anniversary Revival of All in the Timing—David Ives’ evening of short comedies built around various kinds of wordplay—couldn’t be better cast or better directed. It’s a virtual master class in playing and delivering comedy because each of the comic premises is an extreme one, yet director John Rando never encourages mugging or frenetic behavior in the quest for a laugh. Oh, to be sure, in the sketch where three lab monkeys in a cage with three typewriters are being monitored to see how long it’ll take them to write Hamlet, per the old bromide, he allows the screeches, hoots and leaps of monkey behavior—but only as punctuation, setting off primal behavior from intellectual discussion. If that sounds like a contradiction, comedy is a soft science at best, and yes, even though the easy lob and playing for real stakes are key components, shock effect and big gesture have their place. And as a sketch called “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” demonstrates—as the title would suggest, a satire of concert/opera musical minimalism, per Mr. Glass’s highly imitable, or at least parody-able style—there is such a thing as purely technical comedy, committing to a concept that escalates in absurdity but not humanistically. But then the real stake is the joke itself; in presenting a Philip Glass moment without winking, without editorializing, letting the total conviction be its own comment.

                  Too much analysis?

                  Never mind.

                  The cast are Eric Clem, Carson Elrod, Jenn Harris, Liv Rooth and Matthew Saldivar and their show is far more instructive than my tell. Go. Laugh. Enjoy. And those of you who would attempt comedy yourselves: Learn.


There is also expert comedy on hand at The Paper Mill Playhouse, where there’s an excellent new production of Lend Me a Tenor, an homage to the hotel-room screwball farce by Ken Ludwig, set in the 30s, about a visiting Italian tenor scheduled to make a guest appearance in Othello and all that ensues when things don’t go quite as planned. Don Stephenson has briskly directed an across-the-board splendid ensemble of terrific New York actors, about half of whom have starred on Broadway without having yet become stars in the sense of real celebrity…but because of that inspire welcome anticipation from those in the audience who know their work and a sense of revelation from those who don’t.

                  It’s difficult to compare this somewhat more straight-ahead rendering to the Broadway revival of two seasons back (whose stars were stars), because each represents a different calibration of the material, a different attunement to cast, and, to a certain degree, comic/technical sensibility. For one thing, few in the Broadway revival were seriously associated with musical theatre, whereas virtually everybody onstage at Paper Mill (plus, offstage, the director) is a musical theatre veteran. The commitment to comic verisimilitude and the understanding of timing and delivery are equally deft, but the fluidity is different. On Broadway, director Stanley Tucci seemed interested in adding a “humanizing” verité to the archetypes, moving the two dimensional character templates just a little closer to a third dimension; at Paper Mill, Mr. Stephenson is all about the archetypes in their most classic manifestation, so the delivery is slicker. But here’s what’s important: Both approaches are very funny and support the comedy.

                  The Paper Mill ensemble, by the way, consists of Judy Blazer, John Treacy Egan, Donna English, Nancy Johnston, Daniel Josefsberg, Michael Kostroff, Jill Paice and Mark Price. Performer wattage doesn’t get much hotter than that.

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