It's been said that if you put a group of monkeys in a room with typewriters, one of them will eventually type "Hamlet." But what would the monkeys have to say about that situation?
That's the question raised in one of the eight short plays that constitute David Ives' "All In the Timing," which the Hilberry Theatre Company will perform in repertory beginning Friday. Ives' show, originally published as a series of six plays in 1994, has been expanded to include 14 plays in subsequent performances and has become a popular production in venues ranging from high schools to off-Broadway.
"It's a very contemporary play that's sort of retained its modernness," says David Magidson, director of the Hilberry's production. "Some of them go out of style pretty quickly, like rock and roll songs or something. But this one seems to have held up really well."
The eight short productions play fast and loose with concepts of time and probability. In "Words, Words, Words" three chimps debate a political revolution against their captors while struggling with the significance of the three typewriters in front of them. In "Sure Thing" a blind date resets every time something goes awry, offering the participants infinite chances to say the right thing. And in "Time Flies" two mayflies confront their mortality upon learning that they only live one day.
"Some of the pieces are just absurdly ridiculous," says actor Bevin Bell-Hall, who plays the ape Swift in "Words, Words, Words." "People are acting like monkeys or mayflies or Trotsky, so there's a lot of humor to be had in the absurdity of this show."
There's also biting insight to Ives' work, and in some cases genuine pathos. Actor Brandy Joe Plambeck portrays Leon Trotsky in "Variations On the Death of Trotsky," which imagines eight different versions of the revolutionary's death by axe wound to the head.
"As funny as it is to see this guy walking around with an axe in his head, having these conversations with his wife, there also is something poignant about it," Plambeck says. "Maybe these conversations are all just in his head as he's laying there dying, wondering about how his life could have gone."
Magidson compares Ives' shorts to "Saturday Night Live" sketches, but with more follow-through.
"When ('SNL' writers) run out of things to say, they just stop," he says. "They don't ever wrap themselves up, or often they don't. These are all more skillfully done than that, I think. The approach is satire more than just slapstick humor."
Even with multiple narratives, and a plethora of alternate timelines within them, Magidson says the play's running time keeps things short and sweet.
"You can see eight plays in 90 minutes, and all about different things," he says. "So if you're bored, just wait five minutes and you won't be bored."
'All In the Timing'
8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
4743 Cass Ave., Detroit