Actors Ensemble—in their 50th year, Berkeley’s senior theater company—turns its attention to David Ives’ All in the Timing, short comedies that are like more developed sketch material, to show another facet of what a community theater can do very well, indeed, at Live Oak Theatre.
Ives’ six short plays, selected from a bigger repertoire, are somewhat conceptualized, even gimmicky, versions for the stage of the kind of thing once practiced on TV by Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs, then, later, Monty Python and the Saturday Night Live troupe. As directed by Jon Wai-keung Lowe, ensemble members (Sam Craig, Nick Crandall, Lia Fischer and Stanley Spenger) try on chosen material that fits them very well.
The men lift off as “Mere Mortals,” high steel construction workers, chewing the rag at lunch. And the rag yields the taste of past riches, as Charlie (Stanley Spenger) reveals he’s not just the blue-collar fellow he seems. With “Words, Words, Words,” Nick Crandall, Sam Craig and Lia Fischer get under the skin of the simians set up to randomly type out copy that must, statistically, shape up as Hamlet—eventually. There’s a little rage, some spirited swinging, ape-like cynicism—and Fischer’s tantalizing toe-picking at the keyboard.
With “Variations on the Death of Trotsky,” the material really gets into that special area between parody and burlesque—and the cast is more than up to it. “The Universal Language” takes a refreshing step back into the sort of routine a Red Skelton could—and would—pull off.
When Fischer shows up to learn Unamunda, the new universal language, Spenger, its sanguine creator, leads her through grammar and diction—all puns and malapropisms that soon has the audience co-dependent on the declensions of Harvard or Howard Hughes to arrive at something in-between that means “How are you!”
“English Made Simple” makes up the difference between the previous two plays, as an Announcer (Sam Craig) moderates Jack and Jill (Crandall and Fischer) through the various commonplaces and responses of partygoers meeting for the first time.
It’s a quick, fun evening, lighter even than Actors Ensemble’s full-length comedy fare. It goes to show that there are more arrows in the quiver—or is it strings to the bow?—of community theater than usually conceived.
All in the Timing
Actors Ensemble of Berkeley
Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m.
Like Oak Theater, 1301 Shattuck Ave.
through Aug. 11, Tickets $12