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Carnegie Mellon Drama's Lives of the Saints 

David Ives's interestingly nutty concepts are marred by flat jokes and flabby writing

Lives of the Saints at Carnegie Mellon Drama.

Photo courtesy of Louis Stein.

Lives of the Saints at Carnegie Mellon Drama.

The program notes for the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama's production of Lives of the Saints calls it a "comedic masterpiece." But I'd say the general opinion regarding this 1999 compilation of comedy skits by David Ives isn't quite so euphoric.

In his other collections — Times Flies, Mere Mortals and All in the Timing — Ives imagines quirky, smart people and plops them into absurd situations. At his best (i.e., All in the Timing), there's enough jazzy idiosyncrasy to keep the evening moving at a humorous clip.

But Saints, directed by Gregory Lehane, never reaches that level; each of the seven sketches, to various degrees, strains for funniness rather than achieving it. This isn't a bad evening, by any means, but Ives' interestingly nutty concepts are marred by flat jokes and flabby writing. Believe me, if David Ives had written a show in 1999 even remotely as entertaining as his cash cow All in the Timing, I wouldn't be seeing it for the first time in 2014: Every theater company in the region would have produced it by now.

"The Mystery at Twickham Vicarage," an Agatha Christie parody, starts funny but gets mired in sophomoric sex jokes. "Soap Opera," in which the Maytag repairman falls in love with a washing machine, greatly overstays its welcome, as does a nonsensical bit about building the Tower of Babel. A few others miss the mark as well.

"Enigma Variations" is an interesting roundelay, with Lehane's precise, impeccable direction: A therapist and patient are doubled by another therapist and patient who themselves double ... there's no way to explain it, but Bridget Peterson, Michelle Veintimilla, Jimmy Nicholas, John Garet Stoker and Thomas Constantine Moore give terrific, detailed performances. Also enjoyable in other pieces are Rachel Keller, Michael Reep and Antonio Marziale.

My favorite skit, "Lives of the Saints," finds two church ladies preparing a funeral breakfast. It's a quiet, gently endearing little piece, making the subtle but sincere point that such women are really the miracles of the church, bringing sustenance and love to the grieving. Ives almost screws it up with such mood-shattering gimmicks as on-stage created sound effects, but performances by Veintimilla and Taylor Rose keep it human and rewarding.

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