Barrington Stage actors take a wild ride with David Ives
PITTSFIELD — In "Time Flies and Other Comedies," an evening-length David Ives compilation directed by Tracy Brigden, Debra Jo Rupp and returning Barrington Stage Company actors Jeff McCarthy and Carson Elrod join company newcomers Ruth Pferdehirt and Cary Donaldson for six one act plays on the St. Germain Stage, where it officially opens Wednesday after a final preview Tuesday.
During a rehearsal break, Elrod and BSC associate artists McCarthy and Rupp spoke about their experience with the prolific playwright.
"It's been a wild ride getting here," said McCarthy, a veteran of BSC plays and musicals including "Kunstler," "Sweeney Todd" and "Man of La Mancha" but new to Ives' work.
"It's been a very different trajectory," he explained. "Usually you spend three or four weeks developing a character, and here we're developing five or six. It'll be fun to see how the audience responds; apparently they just fall apart."
"I like to take one character and take the audience on a journey," said Rupp, whose recent BSC performances include "Becoming Dr. Ruth" and last year's "The Cake," which she reprised in Los Angeles and Off Broadway. "This is very different for me — like six little journeys. The humor is appealing — a little dark and very smart — I think the audience is going to love it."
Her favorite character is a mayfly with romance on her mind. "I like being the mayfly. A lot," she said.
It's not her first bug role. At a long ago musical audition she had to dance like an ant.
"It went on and on and they were just laughing hysterically," she recalled. "It was so beyond awful they had never seen anything like it."
In "Time Flies," Elrod — who debuted at BSC in the 2017 comedy "Taking Steps" and premieres "What We May Be" at Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge later this summer — plays an English vicarage rector, a man whose mother just died, a psychologist and Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
He comes to BSC fresh from Ives' new play "The Panties, The Partner and The Profit" in Washington, D.C., adapted from a trilogy by playwright Carl Sternheim.
"I've been working with [Ives] on and off for a long time," Elrod said — 11 years to be precise, since appearing with Rupp in Ives' 2008 adaptation of Feydeau's "A Flea in her Ear" at Williamstown Theatre Festival. He has since performed in several other Ives interpretations of French plays.
"I don't know if there's any compliment an actor can receive more than a playwright writing for them and inviting them to premiere their work," Elrod said. "There isn't a day I don't count myself incredibly lucky."
The admiration is clearly mutual. Following the 20th anniversary production of Ives' signature evening of one acts "All in the Timing," the playwright described Elrod in a 2013 Playbill interview as "one of our most brilliant comedians."
"I love [how] he can be so economical and concise and, in the most ridiculous, absurd way, talk about some of the most important universal and transcendent truths about what it means to live a human life," Elrod said. The array of topics "gives you a lot to digest."
Ives visited the cast at the start of rehearsals and will attend Wednesday's opening. Originally an actor who began writing as a student at Yale, Ives writes plays "that he thinks actors will have a fun time doing,' Elrod said
One play in this program, for example, has "a mathematical approach," Elrod said, where the actors "need to do things in synchronicity." It's very rhythmic and staccato, McCarthy added.
While past anthologies were prescribed, now theaters can program "a la carte" from Ives' three dozen short plays. For this outing, BSC artistic director Julianne Boyd has selected "Time Flies," "Enigma Variations," "Variations on the Death of Trotsky," "Life Signs," "The Philadelphia" and "The Mystery of Twicknam Vicarage."
BSC audiences are very familiar with the short play format from the theater's popular annual 10x10 New Play Festival of 10 ten-minute plays each winter for the past eight seasons. At almost twice the length, however, averaging 17 minutes each, Ives' plays allow a more substantial dive into the scenarios they portray. Casts vary from three to five characters.
"This is a huge experiment for me," Rupp said. Having Elrod's experience with the playwright's work to tap into "is very helpful."
"It's very absurdist, at times very surreal material," McCarthy said. While rehearsals were "noisy," he said, "now that we're in the theater the plays are finding a patina. It's much more satisfying."
"It's also very heartfelt," added Rupp.
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