Blame it on TV. Blame it on fast-food restaurants. But don’t look to David Ives’ Mere Mortals as a cause for the American culture’s short attention span and shallow consumerism.
Instead, Mere Mortals delivers what American audiences expect from television comedy, with an added punch of meaningful insight. Even though Mere Mortals’ collection of six plays contain intelligent perspectives you usually don’t find from late-night TV comedy, it still has enough bawdy humor and brevity to satisfy any regular fan of Saturday Night Live or Mad TV.
Anyone familiar with Ives’ previous short play romp All In the Timing knows that he is a master of combining parody, witty dialogue and theatricality to create gut-wrenching laughter. While Mere Mortals lacks some of the unique theatrical tricks employed in many of Timing’s plays, Ives still shows he can be just as funny in plays that are more straightforward and to the point.
Understandably, the producers at Salt Lake Acting Company (who produced All In the Timing three seasons ago) wanted to capitalize on Ives again by presenting Mere Mortals this season. While this smacks of Hollywood sequel-itis, it’s not necessarily a sign of sell-out, especially when Ives’ work offers so much wit and craftsmanship that is uncommon of most sequels.
With four clever directors and six changeling-energized actors, Mere Mortals continually amuses as it jumps from scenario to scenario.
The Lilliput Land miniature golf course serves as the setting for Foreplay Or: The Art Of the Fugue, as three couples find innuendo from golf terms and guide-book pick-up lines, eventually creating a fugue of sexually charged cacophony. Under David Mong’s direction, Foreplay serves as a great Ives ice-breaker and sets the tone for the smart silliness that follows.
Craig Rich’s direction of the following playlets Mere Mortals and Time Flies is polished, though marred slightly by actor dialect delivery problems and the material itself. These problems occur specifically in Mere Mortals, which has three high-rise construction workers spending their lunch break discussing their own unique claim to fame. Throughout the piece, the actors audibly struggle with their Brooklyn accents and never come off as genuine with their concerns. And while Ives’ examination of the common man’s need to be significant is good, the subject has been explored elsewhere before (and even touched upon in Mere Mortals’ final playlet).
Thankfully, Time Flies quickly follows and confirms Ives’ wonderful way of creating absurd situations filled with guffaw-heavy puns. Featuring Kathryn Atwood and Mark Chambers as two awkward mayflies on their first date, Time Flies shows Ives’ creative way of combining life science, human sexual tension and carpe deim enthusiasm into one short play. As the spastic mayflies realize that they only have 24 hours to live, Atwood and Chambers have wonderful comic timing and are hilarious with their insect-like movements and appendages.
Just like All In the Timing’s minimalist parody of Einstein on the Beach in Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread, Mere Mortals also has a parody that pokes fun at another artist. Speed-the-Play takes its title from David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, and is Ives way of skewering Mamet’s patented testosterone-filled male worlds and blatant sexism that paint women into two basic roles: bitch and whore.
In just under 10 minutes, the members of the Chicago, Ill., Men’s Club present paired-down versions of Mamet’s American Buffalo, Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna and Sexual Perversity In Chicago. They also manage to get the F-word to punctuate nearly every sentence, in over-exaggerated Mamet fashion. Those familiar with Mamet will have an uproarious time, while those unaccustomed may be puzzled at all the good-natured profanity and carefree misogyny.
Along with Speed-the-Play, Dr. Fritz: Or The Forces of Light shares Tracy Callahan’s capable directing skills. Set in a Third-World doctor’s office, Ives makes Dr. Fritz into a voodoo witch-doctor parody that also asks the significant question about the role that God plays in our lives. It’s an unlikely combination, but works even with Ives’ tongue-in-cheek humor. Jeanette Puhich is a marvel as the medium to both Dr. Fritz and his receptionist.
Mere Mortals finishes on a distinctly artistic and intellectual note with Degas, C’est Moi in which an unemployed New Yorker named Ed (honestly played by Kim Weiss) wakes up one day and thoughtfully decides that he is the impressionist painter Edgar Degas. Decidedly laid-back and reflective, Degas, C’est Moi explores our fascination with famous figures from history, and the need to leave our own significant thumbprint for future generations. It offers a helpful suggestion that we should live our lives uniquely as our own instead of trying to model them on others.
Under the direction of Keven Myhre, Degas, C’est Moi is a crowning touch to an evening showcasing Ives’ oddball sense of humor and humanity. Each member of Mere Mortal’s cast stands out and makes up an entertaining ensemble. The simple and effective production design work is from Myhre and Jim Craig (lighting design).
Just as Ives pointed out in All in the Timing’s wacky playlets that we should make the most of our limited time on Earth, his musings on life and humanity in Mere Mortals are just as poignant and peculiar to us all who are merely mortal, with short attention spans and all.
Mere Mortals plays until May 10 in the Upstairs Theatre of Salt Lake Acting Company, located at 168 W. 500 North. Call ArtTix at 355-ARTS (2787) for ticket and performance information.