TDPS's All in the Timing Explores the Mechanics of Connection

  Jack (Noah Weinstein) and Jill (Julia Reilly) manage to make a sweet connection in “English Made Simple,” a short comedy that explores the nature of communication. Photo:   Alessandra Mello

Jack (Noah Weinstein) and Jill (Julia Reilly) manage to make a sweet connection in “English Made Simple,” a short comedy that explores the nature of communication. Photo: Alessandra Mello

In TDPS’s production of David Ives’ All in the Timing, students take center stage in every sense, which is the production’s greatest strength. Each vignette within the play is designed, directed, and performed by students; as a result, the show is fresh, eager, and earnest in a way only entirely student-run productions can pull off. All in the Timing is an uneven pleasure, and though it won’t stay with you long after it ends, it transforms the Durham Studio Theater into an incubator of suspended reality where colors assert themselves more vividly, lights twinkle a bit brighter, and happy endings are routine.

The title of All In the Timing isn’t just a cheeky reference to the transience of romantic relationships— it’s also an instruction for performing the play successfully. All in the Timing explores connection through conversation, and these conversations demand precise timing in order to have their intended thematic and comedic effects. TDPS’s production of Ives’ absurdist classic is most successful when it nails this dialogic timing; a difficult feat, but one that elevates the performance considerably.

Of the production’s four vignettes, “English Made Simple” masters its comedic timing the best, making it the strongest one-act in both content and performance. The superb performances of Noah Weinstein and Julia Reilly particularly stand out, ricocheting off each other. The most formally ambitious of the one-acts, “English Made Simple” explores the subtext that simmers beneath everyday interactions, which are constrained by social norms and standards of etiquette. In examining the mechanics of conversation, it yields surprising insights: the life-opening possibilities of a single encounter, the suffocation of superficial interaction, the potent exhilaration of total transparency. It’s the play’s most rapid and challenging text, but also it is also its most thought-provoking, thanks in large part to Ceylan Ersoy’s graceful direction.

“Time Flies,” a vignette that tells the story of two mayflies falling in love, is an interesting enough concept that stumbles in execution. The first half of the its script consists of a series of bug-related puns, which are stale upon delivery. Luckily, Julian Schwartzman’s David Attenbourough comes to the rescue: Schwartzman nails his lofty Planet Earth-style narration and infuses much needed freshness into the scene. His appearance makes for one of the play’s funniest moments. The rest of the sequence is insightful enough, applying the complexity of human emotion to insects at the mercy of nature’s indifference. In their 24-hour life span, Horace and May cycle through a lifetime’s worth of emotion, quickly dashing from awkward bashfulness to primal lust to death anxiety. Though “Time Flies” proves ultimately forgettable, the creativity of Michelle Lubimov’s costume design is anything but.  

  After meeting in a café, Betty (Christina Nguyen) and Bill (Patrick Yorkgitis) must find their way through a conversational minefield littered with false starts. Photo: Alessandra Mello

After meeting in a café, Betty (Christina Nguyen) and Bill (Patrick Yorkgitis) must find their way through a conversational minefield littered with false starts. Photo: Alessandra Mello

The play’s first vignette, “Sure Thing,” is a fascinating dissection of conversational flow, revealing the delicate balance of mystique and divulgence that makes for a rewarding interaction. It’s an exercise in how to say the right thing, how to align moving conversational parts in order to create connection. As Betty and Bill, Christina Nguyen and Patrick Yorkgitis deftly maneuver tonal quick-changes as they rapidly dart from worst to best case scenarios. “Sure Thing” is a  clever examination of the unpredictability and endless possibilities of human conversation, a thematic continuation of “English Made Simple.” Of all the one-acts, “Sure Thing” requires the most precise comedic timing; it doesn’t always land, but when the actors hit it just right, it’s equal parts brilliant and hilarious.

All in the Timing’s final vignette “The Universal Language,” struck an unexpected personal chord with me. It tells the story of a woman who stutters who attempts to learn a new, universal language. As a person who stutters myself, I was eager but nervous to see the portrayal. Overall, the portrayal of stuttering in “The Universal Language” isn’t malicious or derisive, but clearly springs from the imagination of a writer who has not shared my lived experience for himself. The one-act also implicitly suggests that connection, confidence, and happiness are contingent on speaking fluently, a troubling but widely held misconception. At points, it feels Ives is using stuttering as a cheap device to deliver a larger metaphorical message, co-opting an identity to say something sweet about love. Despite its disconcerting content, the performances in “The Universal Language” were particularly strong; Danielle Altizio shines and Patrick Yorkgitis, who was also excellent in “Sure Thing,” again proves his immense talent for inhabiting character.

TDPS’s All in the Timing doesn’t always nail its incredibly challenging source material. But it succeeds in creating a space devoid of reality, where we can admit our most persistent fears—How do I create connection? How do I make the most of the time I have? How do I say the right thing? How do I find someone who understands? It’s amusing and unsettling at once, staring at our refracted selves onstage as they wonder aloud the questions we’re too scared to ask ourselves. Lending a fresh voice to the source material, the students behind All in the Timing prove their talent and skill several times over. The show’s comedic intention doesn’t always come through, but its incisive interrogation of connection is loud and clear, making for a challenging but enjoyable evening of entertainment.