Six-Pack of Shorts: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre tackles David Ives' comedy anthology "All in the Timing"


Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing

Denyse Clayton, Julie Post, and Ellen Finch star in the "Words, Words, Words” section of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing. Photo by Tom Mann.

When Bruce Morey was looking for a play to direct for the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, he wanted a comedy that would engage a large cast and that wouldn’t be too time-consuming for cast members. Instead of one play, Morey found six plays in one package, David Ives’ All in the Timing.

“I wanted to do a comedy that didn’t have any heavy issues about it, just fun,” he said. “All in the Timing is a series of 10-minute plays and I wanted to explore 10-minute plays, which I think is great for community players because you can put a lot of people into these plays if you do it right. They’re shorter, so for people who work full time and have lives outside of theater, this is a great experience for them because they can come in and do a 10-minute play or a 15-minute play and maybe it’s their first experience with it. It’s self-contained and ideal for community players.”

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre will present Ives’ six-pack of short comedies, March 14-17 at the Arthur Miller Theatre in Ann Arbor.

Director Morey and producer Nicole Arruda are working together on producing and directing.

“I have to be here every night directing. Nicole is directing one of the six segments and I’m directing the other five," Morey said. "I think it’s easier for the players because they don’t have to sustain a very long role. We’re not looking for a Hamlet who had to sustain it over five acts. All we need is somebody who can hold it together for 15 minutes.”

Ives’ mini plays cover a range of topics: fine-tuning a first meeting, literary chimps, avant-garde dancing, revolution, and a bit of The Twilight Zone.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing play Universal Language.

Grey Hendry and David Zolotarchuk star in "The Universal Language" segement of Ann Arbor Civic Theatre's All in the Timing. Photo by Bruce Morey.

"Sure Thing" is set in a coffee shop where a young man asks to sit down with a young woman, every time he engages in conversation with her, a buzzer goes off and he has another opportunity to try again to win her favor. "Words, Words, Words" takes up the old saying that three chimpanzees could write Hamlet given enough time, but these chimps would rather monkey around than get serious. In "The Universal Language" a man runs a fraudulent language course in which he speaks an invented language to a naive woman but learns a lesson himself.

"The Philadelphia" is a trip to the Twilight Zone, here called the “anomalous pocket of reality '' in which a man is told that he will only be fulfilled by asking for the opposite of what he wants. Variations on the Death of Trotsky '' is a comic take on the assassination of Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. He dies several deaths, while he makes amends to his wife and engages with his gardener, who is also his assassin. “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” is a musical sendup of minimalist, avant-garde composer Philip Glass.”

Morey directs five of the plays and Arruda takes on the musical.

“I’m doing ‘Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread’,” Arruda said. “It was a different thing from just directing a straight play. We knew it would have a musical component to it and luckily we were able to find a score.”

The All in the Timing title of the play is especially important to the Philip Glass parody, which is choreographed to follow musical rhythms while going to get a loaf of bread. 

Nicole Arrud directs four actors through a funny take on dancing to a different beat.

“I don’t know anything about choreography. They picked me because I knew more than Bruce,” Arruda said. “We had a conversation about the Philip Glass one and he said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think we should do it.’” 

Arruda disagreed.

She has a musical background and has been choreographed. In auditions, she was looking for people with a dance background or who were very physical in auditions and “not self-conscious about doing big, silly things with their bodies.”

“Part of the audition process was to do some improv games,” Morey said. “We wanted to see how people responded in the improv, which is kind of what it’s like. That was a great auditioning tool for us. It really helped quite a bit.”

Morey said there is an absurdist thread that runs through the six plays.

“When you watch these plays, people don’t fall in love in 10 minutes, but in the context of how absurd these plays are, it works,” he said. “David Ives, I have such a great respect for this guy as a writer. As we got into these plays, it’s like peeling an onion, there is more and more stuff beyond the surface. So I think the quality of the writing is superb throughout. The thread is the absurdist humor, that kind of scripted improv approach to it. And I stayed away from big political themes, sticking with the human condition and talking about how human beings react in certain situations that are almost timeless.”

There is a stylistic link to what Morey calls “scripted improv.”

The show begins with “Sure Thing,” which sets the stage for an unusual evening of short plays and a nod to improv’s change action bell.

“You hear a little bell and there’s a reset and it’s almost exactly what you see in an improv show like new voices, new things. Especially new things when you’re doing a skit and the proctor hits the bell and you have to do something completely new,” Morey said. “That was one where there was a peeling off layers in rehearsal.”

As an example, Morey said actor Elise Griffiths, who plays Betty in Sure Thing, commented on how pretentious her character was. In the play, Betty is reading William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury on a Friday night. 

“It never occurred to me that, yes, you’re right and it all kind of made sense. Their parents want their kids to go to Harvard, Vasser, and Brown,” Morey said. “It’s the human condition and her personality kept her from having true love up to now and this guy is just as pretentious.”

“Variations on the Death of Trotsky’ is an absurdist take on a historic event, but Morey said there is more to it.

“In Trotsky, depending on how you play it has a certain amount of pathos and compassion, because when he dies, the interaction between him and his wife, which I think we capture very well in our play, there’s tenderness and a sense that he’s dying and coming to grips with his dying,” Morey said.

Performing in the skits are Michael Barbour and Elise Griffiths in “Sure Thing”; Juliet Post, Denyse Clayton, and Ellen Finch in “Words, Words, Words”; Grey Hendry and David Zolotarchuk in “The Universal Language”; Maleny Crespo, Cem Ozil and Ellen Finch in “The Philadelphia”; Kathleen Beardmore, Ashley Hughes, Sara Batool and Alandra Meade in “Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread”; and, Jimmy Dee Arnold, Wendy Wright, and Cem Ozil in “Variations on the Death of Trotsky.”

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theater will perform David Ives' “All in the Timing” at 7:30 pm on Thursday, March 14; at 8 pm on Friday and Saturday, March 15-16; and at 2 pm on Sunday, March 17 at the Arthur Miller Theatre, 1226 Murfin Avenue on the North Campus of the University of Michigan. For tickets, visit or call 734-971-2228.