Review: ‘Mere Mortals and Others’

David Ives has devised a new batch of one-acters that offers an abundance of absurdities, played with freewheeling spunk by a spirited cast of able clowns. The playwright's richly fertile imagination creates diverse parody drawn from a wide literary and historical base. Some of the pieces are funnier than others, but while the laughter is sporadic, each situation and character manages to jog somebody's memory and hit home. Opener takes place on Lilliputt Lane, a miniature golf course where Chuck, played by three different actors at three different stages of his life, attempts to seduce his date. With the golf club as a phallic symbol and golfing terms such as "nice lay" used as double entendres, "Foreplay or: The Art of the Fugue," starts with a hardy giggle and fades fast.

“Mere Mortals” fares better, with three hard-hats perched high upon a steel girder during a lunch break. After the boring ritual of discussing the sandwiches in their respective lunch pails, the mowing of lawns and bowling night, Charlie (Danton Stone) announces with conviction that he is really the Lindbergh baby. Not to be outdone, his cronies fess up to their past identities as the surviving son of Tsar Nicholas and Marie Antoinette.

The most imaginative piece, and clearly the funniest, is “Time Flies,” being the short life, mating and imminent death of two mayflies, skillfully realized by Anne O’Sullivan and Arena Burton. On a posh lily pad, (a nifty design by Robert Metheny), the couple woo to the music of the Byrds, Crickets and Beatles, sip stingers and grasshoppers, and select a movie to watch from the likes of “M. Butterfly,” “The Love Bug” and “Travels With My A(u)nt.” It is amusingly clever.

“Speed-the-Play” is a quickie sendup of four plays by David Mamet, dubbed the “William Congreve of our time” by a moderator. The F-word is the pivotal joke here. “Degas, C’est Moi” finds an unemployed New Yorker fantasizing that he is Degas for a day, and features Stone in a lumbering and repetitive monologue that doesn’t quite come off.

“Dr. Fritz or: The Forces of Light” is a quirky allegorical playlet of a phone call to God, which bases its comedy in the style of antique vaudeville. A tourist with a stomach-ache (Burton) seeks a doctor for a quick remedy, only to be confronted by a Spanish receptionist (wildly drawn by Nancy Opel) who sells souvenirs and misinterprets the suffering patient’s every word. It’s pure Burns & Allen, and the actors rise to the moment with slapstick abandon.

Minimal props and sets serve the action, and director John Rando has paced the antic behavior with swift control of the nonsense. Costumes are fine, especially the inspired design of the ardent mayflies.

Mere Mortals and Others

Opened May 6, 1997, at Primary Stages. 99 seats; $30 top.

Production

NEW YORK A Primary Stages Co. presentation of six one-act plays by David Ives. Directed by John Rando. Set, Russell Metheny;

Creative

costumes, Anita Lavish; lighting, Phil Mount; sound, Aural Fixation; stage manager, Christine Catty. Artistic director, Casey Chills. Reviewed May 9; Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

Cast: Arena Burton, Jessalyn Gilsig, Nancy Opel, Anne O'Sullivan, Willis Sparks, Danton Stone.
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