By: Iris Wiener
Lives of the Saints is Primary Stages’ seventh production of David Ives’ work, but with this piece alone the question on anyone’s mind will be "Why?" Despite David Ives’ decree that Lives of the Saints‘ six short one-acts have a connecting theme, there is little continuity, rhyme, or reason for the inanity that transpires over the course of the evening; however, this is a conceit that works occasionally, as pieces both farcical ("Life Signs") and blatantly symbolic ("Soap Opera") provide fodder for all types of imaginations. Though some of the plays are reminiscent of tired sketch comedy (great concept, no endgame), the ride to uncovering the mystery as to which plays will indeed work is a ride worth considering.
If there is one thing that can be said of all of Ives’ work, it is that every piece requires actors of the strongest caliber and versatility. With this collection, director John Rando (On the Town, Ives’ All in the Timing) has opted to use five stellar performers in multiple roles, a nice showcase for their awesome talent. The tremendous trio that is Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, and Rick Holmes previously performed in the insanely clever Peter and the Starcatcher, and their reunion brings their unique skills to the forefront once again. Joining them are Liv Rooth (All in the Timing and Venus in Fur) and Kelly Hutchinson (Desire Under the Elms), actors who are as entertaining as their characters are different. Any failures in this production lie at the pen of its writer. With Arnie Burton packing the biggest punch, all performers are quick-witted, enjoyable, and profound in their humor.
Of the six sketches, two hit high notes. The opener of the second act, "Life Signs", features Elrod and Rooth as a married couple mourning the recent loss of his mother (Hutchinson). She comes back from the afterlife simply to shed some light on secrets from the past that would have been best kept buried. Also triumphant is "Lives of the Saints", which engages the eye and ear with the silly banter of two late-age friends (Rooth and Hutchinson) as they prepare a funeral breakfast in a basement kitchen. Ives invites his audiences to extoll the symbolic poignancy laced throughout its humor.
"Soap Opera" may be memorable for its sight gags and sheer inanity, but it suffers in its lack of profundity. Elrod portrays a Maypole repairman who waxes poetic when it comes to his beloved childhood crush – his mother’s washing machine (Rooth). Dopey puns aside, the sketch lacks in depth (and is all washed up…get it?). The night opens with "The Goodness of Your Heart", a forgettable remark on the manipulation of friendship. Burton is equally humanizing and hysterical in the piece, but unfortunately Ives’ words are not. "It’s All Good" is a doozy of a "what-if" story, a clever concept in which Holmes, portraying a writer, journeys back to his hometown and runs into Elrod, a man who could have been him had he made different life choices. The piece’s existentiality is easy to unfold and not as clever as it could have been. Instead, it plays as a concept, perhaps for a longer, more dramatic piece (that might even work as a musical). Lastly, "The Enigma Variations" shows the actors at their brilliant best as they maneuver through tricky mimicry and twisting language while Ives’ words make an attempt at meaning that will surely escape most viewers.
Beowulf Boritt’s scenic design is engaging and creative; a Rubik’s cube of doors and pieces, it transforms into six settings with tremendous alacrity. Anita Yavitch’s costumes are simple, yet effective, as is most evident with Rooth’s washing machine. John Gromada’s sound design and original music are their own characters in the final piece, "Lives of the Saints". The exploratory gimmick (not to be ruined for readers of this story) makes the scene worth more than one viewing.
This collection is not about Saints, nor is it by any means perfect. However, much as with people, its good is worth finding amidst its many faults.
Lives of the Saints **1/2
The Duke on 42nd Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenues)
229 West 42nd Street
Running Time is 2 Hours
February 3-March 27th, 2015
Tuesday-Thursday at 7pm, Friday at 8pm Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 3pm added 2pm matinee Wed March 25th No performances on Wed March 4th and Tuesday; March 17th