February 25, 2015

A woman returns from the dead to reveal uncomfortable secrets. A friendship almost founders over a gift gone unappreciated. A boy becomes romantically obsessed with a washing machine. A man runs into a fellow who seems to embody, with eerie specificity, the life he chose not to live. Do these sound like subjects rich in belly laughs? Well, maybe the boy-loves-washer one does. And yet in the dexterous hands of the playwright David Ives (Venus in Fur), metaphysical questions and elbow-in-the-ribs gags coexist peacefully; thoughtfulness and silly wordplay live side by side with equanimity. Mr. Ives’s new collection of short plays, Lives of the Saints, which opened on Tuesday night at the Duke on 42nd Street, is continually piquant and pleasurable, sometimes deliriously daffy (the pun-allergic should stay away), and surprisingly moving. The production, directed with sly finesse by Mr. Ives’s frequent collaborator John Rando, comes from Primary Stages, which revived Mr. Ives’s earlier collection All in the Timing a couple of seasons ago. Among the new show’s pleasures are the juicy performances of its gifted cast of five: Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson and Liv Rooth, all adept at loopy sketch-comedy pyrotechnics but also capable of creating fully realized characters within small frames. It’s hard to choose a favorite among the six plays, half of which are new, with only one having been seen in New York before. If scored by the number of guffaws induced, the winner would have to be “Life Signs,” which opens the second act on an explosively raunchy note.