Last year’s mind-blowing Venus in Fur turned me onto David Ives’s work and All in the Timing just happens to be an early and well-lauded example. My limited knowledge of Ives’s plays shows that his affinity for language is more than just the advantage of a wordsmith– it’s a deeply rooted fascination with its fickle and reproductive nature. In Venus in Fur, a play’s text brings together past and present in an eerie, karma-esque revisitation of gender relations.
All in the Timing, a collection of short plays, is a more overt examination of the nature of language. There’s it randomness– the idea that at any given point in time, what we say will produce ripple effects that we have no control over. See the first short play, ‘Sure Thing’, in which one potential couple’s conversation veers into an extraordinary amount of alternate directions. See also, ‘Universal Language,’ in which the arbitrary words of a made-up language somehow make sense to us, an English-speaking language, and actually results in a friendship/romance between two lonely speakers.
In many ways, there’s a sort of rejoicing in the fact that we do not control our own means of communications. There’s a sort of ease, a letting-go, that we can only do our best to say what we mean and ‘time’ it as best as possible. (I’ve been reading Sarah Blakewell’s Life of Montaigne and Montaigne’s skeptic ideas are growing on me.)
There’s also the idea that storytelling and language is innate without regard to the words you actually are using. In ‘Universal Language,’ love becomes the universal. Shakespeare, as well as some Marxist core principles, are recurring presences in the stories (among others). Does Ives mean to suggest that some things are innate, almost archetypal, even for the monkeys (Kafka, Swift, and Milton) in ‘Words, Words, Words.’ Would Hamlet have been a different story, held a different meaning, if it were produced by monkeys? Written in another time period? Under different conditions? Does it even matter?
The first act is full of these puzzling ideas, which takes place right along some excellent comedy. The second act was much less stirring and much more dependent on superficial gags and weird jokes about Philadelphia. Obviously, there were a still plenty of laughs. And I won’t hesitate to mention that “Variations on the Death of Trotsky” brought a tear or two (or three) to my eye.
Overall, I’m keeping my radar on for more of Ives works.
Just a quick nota bene: If y’all liked this, read Caryl Churchill’s Blue Heart, which examines problems of lying and language in ways similar to ‘Sure Thing’ and ‘Universal Language.’ Except, I might argue, a bit more powerfully.