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David Ives at Stissing Center

Theater Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Nov 2nd, 2019

Full cast of the Stissing Theater Guild

Playwright David Ives has tailored his one-act plays to be the darling of college stage productions. These plays are witty, erudite, and charming and they demand some skillful acting. Such acting was ebulliently on display last Friday night at the new Stissing Center. While sets for Ives’ plays remain minimal and costumes are casual, emphasis locates itself on witty repartee. Directed by Greg Locker the plays flowed with expert pacing and robust humor.

“Mere Mortals” portrayed three high-rise construction workers during lunch break. They argued about whether they were going bowling together that night. This skit was the 101st variation on James Thurber’s famous short story, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Thurber influenced countless humorists; Thurber’s work was one of the major influences on Hunter S. Thompson’s work. Each of the workers eventually disclosed their secret fantasy life. One of those fantasies, adroitly played with convincing exuberance by Ahmad Syed, revolved around being the dead baby of aviator Charles Lindberg. That theme happens to be the subject of Hunter S. Thompson’s only great short story, “Polo is My Life.” T.J. Roach and Gerard Lisella were also convincing in bass and tenor registers.

“Words, Words, Words” offered a skit on the joke of three monkeys on typewriters eventually typing out Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Cameron Decker as Milton, Paige Arent as Swift, and Autumn Prezzano as Kafka turned out satiric absurdist, Dada versions of the respective author for whom these lady “monkeys” were named. They appeared to be working for a mysterious employer who was so remote as to be God-like—this was an atheist play. The joke was that Milton, Swift, and Kafka all wished they could have been Shakespeare (or James Joyce). This was silly, but sometimes charming, monkey business.

“The Philadelphia” revolved around the joke of disparaging cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Cleveland. One might get stuck in certain modes of frustration which resembled living in those cities. Bridget Donnelly as Allie and Taylor Dykeman as Meg complained comically, by turns angry and amusing, about the misfortune of their luckless lives. Samantha King as the intensely perverse waitress was memorably perverse.

“Sure Thing” is perhaps Ives’ most famous one-act. I had encountered it once before. The principal character of the play is a ringing desk bell that functions as a scene changer. John Hambleton as Bill and Bridgett Donnelly as Betty sit at a café table and flirt. There are 101 flirtations monitored by the bell. There is a long satire on William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury which is either tedious or profound, depending on how one views the novel. I agree that it is Faulkner’s worst novel, its only rival being The Reivers. Donnelly’s diction was a knife of precision; Hambleton was good, especially engaging and affable, yet so amused by his jokes that at times his diction slurred slightly.

One always saves the best for last. “The Universal Language” supplied a satire on the Esperanto and Berlitz method of learning language. James Joyce was one of the first Berlitz language teachers; he taught a foreign language by piano accompaniment with the student singing a familiar song, then learning that song in another language as translated on the spot—the pseudo-linguist in this play does the same with brilliant comic effect!

I referred to the aforementioned presentations as skits, which they were, yet “The Universal Language” is a genuine one-act play that transcends its witty satire as it enters the dramatic world of pathos: the two awkward characters discover mutual eloquence and fall in love at first speak. Patience Tindall as Dawn suffered from a stutter which she believes is somehow connected to the English language which she despises. She becomes the client of a scam pseudo-teacher of languages played with amazing finesse by Kaylie Jackson. This one-act is full of puns and baby-talk. Client wishes to pay the con artist a hefty sum for successful therapy, but the con mask disappears, and the con artist holds out for the hope of the universal language, love.  Acting in all presentations was excellent, but “The Universal Language” was “over the moon.”

We hope The Stissing Center will present more drama.