"Lives of the Saints": EW review
Lives of the Saints
With the congenial Lives of the Saints–now playing the Duke Theatre on 42nd Street through March 27–short-play maestro David Ives returns to the format (if not the form) for which he’s best known. John Rando, Ives’ go-to director for nearly 20 years, is, appropriately, at the helm. All five actors, including insanely versatile Peter and the Starcatcher vets Arnie Burton and Carson Elrod, are Ives alums. And the playwright is teaming again with Off Broadway’s Primary Stages, which in 2013 produced a crackling revival of All in the Timing, the 1993 sextuple bill of one-acts that put Ives, and his particular rhythmic brand of highbrow humor, on the map.
Yet Saints, composed of three new and three previously produced shorts, lacks the tautness and consistency of Timing, not to mention that Swiss-watch precision that typifies Ives’ best pieces (see also: 2010’s Venus in Fur, 2011’s The School for Lies).
The three weakest pieces come, unfortunately, back to back to back, starting with the opener: the debuting “The Goodness of Your Heart,” a who’s-on-first style exchange between two middle-aged drinking buddies (Burton and Rick Holmes) with an affinity for oversized, overpriced TVs. The 1999 short “Soap Opera”—which features Elrod as a depressive Maypole repairman (get it?) and Liv Rooth as an easily agitated washing machine—is remarkable for the sheer number of laundry-related puns Ives folds in. And the fast and furious wordplay of the double-vision riff “Enigma Variations” proves a bit too much for the otherwise agile actors, who strain to keep up with the mandatory breakneck pace.
After intermission, though, the tempo slows, the volume lowers, and the laughs flow far more freely. Ives has a bit of fun with death in another new piece, the Monty Python-esque “Live Signs,” starring Kelly Hutchinson as a freshly deceased woman who says the darnedest things. And he allows himself a few contemplative moments in the premiere “It’s All Good,” sending successful New York author Stephen (Holmes) back to his old Chicago neighborhood to see the what-if version of himself. (Think If/Then, but only if Idina Menzel’s characters’ lives had actually intersected. But much shorter.) To quote provincial Catholic press editor Steve (Elrod): “wowie kazowie.”
And it only gets better with the title playlet, a 15-year-old ode to the shuffling, slipper-clad muumuu-wearing church ladies who mark feast days and funerals with heaping plates of pierogi, kolahtchki, and other homemade Polish treats. When it begins, the business of gray-haired Edna and Flo (Hutchinson and Rooth) making breakfast—sans props, on a completely bare stage—is amusing. But thanks to a supremely clever bit of stagecraft, it becomes completely mesmerizing. Without giving anything away, the secret to the titular short “Lives of the Saints” is, wouldn’t you know it, all in the timing. B
Lives of the Saints