CHATHAM, N.Y. -- An empty apartment, time travel and marital tension -- add them together, and you get "Long Ago and Far Away" by David Ives, a surrealist's look at a couple's life that leads to dramatic results.
It is one of seven short Ives pieces by Ives that Walking the Dog Theatre will perform at PS21, starting Friday, July 5.
Known for his biting wit and dark humor, Ives is one of the theater's most celebrated modern playwrights, and his unique take on life and relationships drew Walking the Dog Theater's artistic director, David Anderson, to stage a collection of Ives plays this summer.
"Ives is extremely funny," Anderson said. "He takes a quirky look at very ordinary things, which is what a lot of comedy does, but he does it in such a way that there is something else -- it illuminates some deeper richness in life. You laugh but, at the same time, don't lose that deeper appreciation for the human experience in all of its quirkiness."
A native of Wisconsin, Anderson is an actor, director and writer who founded the theater group in 1997 with three other colleagues in Australia. Always drawn to Ives' work, Anderson said that he hoped to present a collection of intimate, humorous plays that were about more than just delivering punchlines and obvious gags.
"We often feel hemmed in by our situations in our lives. Making us laugh kind of frees us from our situation. It loosens the seams that hold us in place," Anderson said. "Ives takes a picture of life and opens it up and allows us to laugh at ourselves."
"Canvas" was Ives' first play to be produced in New York. Featured by the Circle Repertory Company in 1972, the play marked the first of many well-received full-length and short plays to make their appearances on New York stages. His most recent play, "Venus in Fur," debuted at Classic Stage Company in New York in 2010, before opening on Broadway in 2011 to positive reviews.
The play has recently been adapted for film by director Roman Polanski, and after debuting at the Cannes Film Festival last month it will premiere in the United States later this year.
Anderson is directing this collection, with a cast of four actors. Anderson said he decided to make "Long Ago and Far Away" the title of the piece, and the anchor of the show as a whole, because it was the longest the one that was most tangibly grounded in reality.
"It's the longest, but we've also been calling it the heart of the piece. It's a comedy but it also goes to many places that the others don't: It goes to the depths of life," Anderson said.
Acting in an Ives play can be a tricky challenge for an actor, who must juggle both humor and pathos.
Actor Gabriel Rodriguez is returning to Walking the Dog Theater for the second year in a row, as one of the four actors in Anderson's production. In the show, Rodriguez balances many characters from one scene-to-the next, embodying everything from a fly in "Time Flies" to one half of the couple in the title piece.
"('Long Ago and Far Away') really skillfully unpacks what it means to be in a heteronormative relationship. It's a lot about what men and women go through, and what two people in love go through," Rodriguez said. "It looks at what two people go through, ways they aren't the same, and then goes somewhere else. It goes somewhere that I think is very thought-provoking."
Rodriguez first encountered Ives' work when he performed an Ives scene in high school. A 2012 graduate of Emerson College, Rodriguez said it is a privilege to be able to interpret Ives' work as a young actor.
"He takes the big questions of why are here and why are we not this and why are we not that? -- he distills those down into a form in which you are laughing and having a good time," Rodriguez said. "The best playwrights are working out something for themselves, and that's what Ives does."
Anderson has had the luxury of a four-week rehearsal period with his actors to mine the depths of the plays' themes, and said he hopes audience members leave the show feeling like they had been fully immersed in each scene's unique world.
"Ives builds these unique worlds," Anderson said. "By observing them for yourself you realize that he ends up transforming yours in the process."
If you go ...
What: Walking the Dog Theater presents ‘Long Ago and Far Away, and other short comedies by David Ives'
Where: PS21, Performance Space for the 21st Century, 2980 Route 66, Chatham, N.Y.
When: July 5 through July 21, Thursday to Sunday, 8 p.m.
Admission: $15 to $30