Pleasures that are short and smart and coarse are rare. All in the Timing is the collective name for six brief plays by David Ives that are currently being performed at Primary Stages, a company devoted to the production of new American plays by new American playwrights. These six works, composed from 1987 to 1993, are to recent theater as a fresh, salty, offshore breeze after a humid August day. Best simply to describe them.

The first, “Sure Thing,” has been called Ives’s signature piece. A man approaches a café table where a woman is sitting and reading a book. He asks, “Is this seat taken?” She says yes. A bell rings. The conversation is repeated, but this time she hedges. Bell. This time she says no. The guy asks what she’s reading. It’s The Sound and the Fury. “Hemingway, I hear it’s great, Paris …” he ventures. Bell. “Faulkner,” he...


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