David Ives

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David Ives
Born (1950-07-11) July 11, 1950 (age 68)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation Playwright, screenwriter, author
Alma mater Northwestern University
Period 1972–present
Spouse Martha Ives

David Ives (born July 11, 1950) is an American playwright, screenwriter, and novelist. He is best known for writing comic one-act plays, a reputation which resulted in the New York Times referring to him as the "maestro of the short form".[1] Ives has also written dramatic plays, narrative stories, and screenplays.[2][3]

Early life

Ives grew up in a neighborhood of Chicago that was home to a variety of cultures and ethnicities. He wrote his first play when he was nine years old. Ives attended high school at a boys Catholic seminary. It was a strict school, with a challenging course of study. “We would-be priests” Ives has written, “were groomed for gravitas.” The school had a tradition that played a significant role in opening his eyes to theatre: at the end of the year the seniors could be a part of a school show called “The Senior Mock,” in which the students satirized the teachers. All the teachers attended, and the student body attended in a spirit of great excitement. Ives himself played the role of “the chain-smoking English teacher who coached the track team (while smoking)”. He also wrote a song that mocked another teacher, and sang it for the audience of six hundred. This minor but exciting school event inspired David Ives.[4] It was another performance of a high school satire, in a previous century, that similarly inspired playwright Alfred Jarry to write his play, Ubu Roi.[5][6] A second event that same year was significant in the same direction — Ives saw a production of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, an experience that so impressed him that the world lost a priest.[4]

Education and early career

Ives attended Northwestern University, majoring in English. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1971. He traveled to Germany, where he taught English for a year. In 1972 he was drawn to California, by the prospect of having his play, Canvas, produced at a theatre in Los Angeles. When Circle Repertory Theatre in New York City determined to mount a production of Canvas, Ives moved to New York City. He found employment there working for William P. Bundy, the editor at Foreign Affairs magazine. When a position as editor opened up at the magazine, it was offered to Ives. Ives continued to write plays, including a trilogy of three full-length plays; part one is, St. Freud (1975), in which, rather than merely theorizing about the Oedipal desire of a young man to murder his father, Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, actually does it. Freud then convinces everyone that the act was all in their minds. Part two of the trilogy, The Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini, imagines Houdini as a serial killer. In part three, City of God, an entire town is struck with amnesia. In 1983 Ives was playwright-in-residence at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusettes where The Lives and Deaths of the Great Harry Houdini was produced. Ives graduated from the Yale School of Drama with a Master of Fine Arts in 1984.[7][8][9][10]


Ives' first play in New York was Canvas,[11] staged at the Circle Repertory Company in 1972, followed at the same theatre by Saint Freud in 1975. In 1987 his short play Words, Words, Words was presented at the Manhattan Punch Line Theatre, followed by Sure Thing,[10] Variations on the Death of Trotsky, Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread (1990),[12] and The Universal Language. A two-act play, Ancient History was produced Off-Broadway in 1989 by Primary Stages.[10]

Ancient History was first performed off-Broadway at Primary Stages in 1989. It is a one-act play that tells the story of an impoverished Catholic math teacher, Jack, and a rich and spoiled young Jewish woman, Ruth, who are caught up in a physically steamy relationship. Problems arise, beginning with one’s desire for children and how they will be raised. Bits of dialogue are sometimes repeated; each time, with evolving emotion, the same words take on new meaning. It was well received – New York Magazine described Ancient History as “a genuine acheivement [as] Ives spin a dance that is Strindberg with yuks … The dialogue is crunchy and saucy [as] these lovers are buffetted about circularly, hilariously, and scarily.”[13][14]

Ives' All in the Timing, an evening of six one-act plays, premiered at Primary Stages in 1993,[10] moved to the larger John Houseman Theatre, and ran for 606 performances. In a review The New York Times said “there is indeed a real heart … There is sustenance as well as pure entertainment.”[15] Critic Vincent Canby wrote, “Ives [is] wizardly … magical and funny … a master of language. He uses words for their meanings, sounds and associations, spinning conceits of a sort I’ve not seen or heard before. He’s an original.”[16] It won the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting,[17] was included in Best Plays of 1993 — 1994, and in 1995 — 1996 was the most performed play in the country after Shakespeare plays.[18][19][10]

Ives’ full-length play, Don Juan in Chicago, premiered off-Broadway in New York at Primary Stages, March 25, 1995.[20]

The Red Address, a full length drama, premiered in New York at Second Stage Theater in January of 1997.[21][22]

This was followed by another notable evening of one-act plays, Mere Mortals and Others, which opened off-Broadway at Primary Stages in New York, May 13, 1997. The New York Times described it as “a collection of six fast and ferociously funny comedies … a madcap evening of one-acts”, and noted that Ives has the “gratifying ability to unharness the intoxicating power of language and at the same time entertain.”[23]

Polish Joke, a full-length play, has been described as loosely autobiographical. It premiered in the summer of 2001 at the Contemporary Theatre of Seattle, and then opened in New York at the Manhattan Theatre Club in February of 2003, among the cast in New York was Walter Bobbie, who would later be the director of Venus in Fur.[24][25][26]

The Blizzard is a short play that was written as part of a theatrical concept that began in 1995 on the lower East Side of Manhattan, in which a group of writers, actors and directors would gather together to create a play from scratch, rehearse it, and perform it — all within 24 hours. The plot of The Blizzard involves a screenwriter who finds himself in a cabin in the woods during a blizzard, when a pair of mysterious guests arrive. While the author, Agatha Christie, is mentioned in the script, Ives has remarked that at one time he was a voracious reader of mysteries, and in fact, as a very young man, wrote to Christie, who wrote back. The Blizzard was produced on the radio, directed by John Rando and starring Jesse Eisenberg.[27][28][29][30]

Primary Stages presented a revival of All in the Timing in January of 2013. This new production was directed by John Rando.[31][32]

Most of his short plays can be found in the anthologies All in the Timing.[32] and Time Flies. His full-length plays up to 2005 are collected in Polish Joke And Other Plays.

In the mid-1990s, after having been a contributor to Spy Magazine, Ives wrote occasional humor pieces for the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and other publications. In that same period, New York magazine named him one of the "100 Smartest New Yorkers". When asked by the magazine to comment on being so listed for the same issue, Ive’s response began, “Grocery lists. Spelling lists. Laundry lists. The very idea of lists has something inherently narrow, petty, unpoetic about it. “List, list, O list!” cried Hamlet’s father’s ghost in exasperation, and I couldn’t agree more …”[33][34]

In 2006 he was commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Theater to write a new translation of Georges Feydeau's farce, A Flea in Her Ear. The world premiere production at Chicago Shakespeare won the Joseph Jefferson Award for "new adaptation". Is He Dead? ran on Broadway from December 2007 to March 2008, and is adapted from an "unproduced 1898 comedy" by Mark Twain.[35] New Jerusalem, concerning the excommunication of Baruch Spinoza, opened Off-Broadway in January 2008 (previews from December 2007) in a Classic Stage Company production.[36] New Jerusalem won a Hull-Warriner Award.

In 2010, he adapted Pierre Corneille's comedy The Liar for The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.[37][38] It won the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play at the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington the following year. In 2011 his version of Molière's The Misanthrope premiered Off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company under the title, The School For Lies.[39] Also in 2011 his adaptation of Jean-Francois Regnard's Le Legataire universel premiered at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. under the title, The Heir Apparent. The Heir Apparent opened Off-Broadway in March 2014 (previews) at the Classic Stage Company, and ran through May 2014.[40][41]

Venus in Fur opened Off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company in January 2010 with Nina Arianda and Wes Bentley.[42][43][44] Venus in Fur premiered on Broadway in October 2011 (previews) at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club. Nina Arianda returned to the role she created Off-Broadway and Hugh Dancy played the role originated by Bentley. Walter Bobbie once again directed. The play transferred to the Lyceum Theatre in February 2012 for an extended run with Arianda and Dancy reprising their performances.[45]

All in the Timing was, after Shakespeare plays, the most produced play in the United States during the 1995-1996 season, and Venus in Fur was most produced, after Shakespeare plays, during the 2013-2014 season.[46]

His Lives of the Saints began in previews Off-Broadway at Primary Stages in February 2015, running through March 27, 2015. Directed by John Rando, Lives of the Saints consists of seven short plays.[47] The plays are: Enigma Variations, The Mystery at Twicknam Vicarage, Babels in Arms, Soap Opera, Lives of the Saints, Arabian Nights, and Captive Audience. Several of the plays had been produced previously.[48] The Lives of the Saints was produced with five of the plays at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stockbridge, Massachusetts in August and September 1999.[49]

Musical theatre

In the early 1990s Ives started working in musical theatre, writing the libretto for an opera based on Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden (music by Greg Pliska). It premiered in Philadelphia in 1991 at the Pennsylvania Opera Theater.[50]

He then became a regular adapter for the New York City Center Encores! series of American musicals in concert, starting with Out Of This World in 1995, Du Barry Was A Lady in 1996, and working on two or three a year until 2012.[51] As of 2013, Ives ended his writing for Encores!, saying "I've very happily done 33 adaptations for Encores! But there comes a time when it's time for someone else to have that pleasure, especially given how full my platter is these days."[52] His Encores! adaptation of Wonderful Town moved to Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2003, directed by Kathleen Marshall.

He adapted David Copperfield's magic show, Dreams and Nightmares, which premiered on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theatre in December 1996.[53] He also adapted Cole Porter's Jubilee (1998)[54] and Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (with Reba McEntire) for concert performances at Carnegie Hall,[55] as well as My Fair Lady for a staged concert at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in 2007.[56]

He helped to rework the book for the Broadway version of the musical Dance of the Vampires, with book, music and lyrics by Jim Steinman and original German book and lyrics by Michael Kunze.[57] The musical opened on Broadway in October 2002 in previews, but closed in January 2003 after 56 performances.[58] He co-wrote the book for Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which premiered in San Francisco in 2004[59] and then went on to tour across the United States and had a limited engagement on Broadway in November 2008 to January 2009,[60] and again in November 2009 to January 2010.[61]

He is collaborating with Stephen Sondheim on a new musical based on two of the films of Luis Buñuel.[62]

Narrative fiction

Ives took several years to write The Phobia Clinic, a full-length narrative verse novel. It was published in 2010. It is described as a philosophical horror novel written in verse. It is, according to the author, “grotesque, satirical, personal, sometimes funny, but mostly reflecting the mood of the title.” [63]

Ives wrote a young adult book, Monsieur Eek, which was released in 2001. The book is set in 1609, and is a "fairy tale–like story full of absurd characters who make bizarre interpretations..."[64] His next book was Scrib (2005), set in the American West in 1863, which follows the adventures of the teen-aged "Scrib", who writes letters and delivers mail.[65][66] His book Voss: How I Come to America and Am Hero, Mostly, was released in 2008.[67]


Ives lives in New York City with his wife, Martha Ives, a book illustrator and a linoprint artist.[68][69][70][71]


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  2. Wren, Celia. "Playwright David Ives updates "The Liar" for the Shakespeare Theatre Company". The Washington Post. 4 April 2010
  3. A.G. "The Q&A: David Ives; S&M on Stage." The Economist. 24 May 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ives, David. “Why Write for Theatre?” Zeotrope: All Story. Volume 4, number 4.
  5. Fell, JIll. Alfred Jarry, an Imagination in Revolt. Rosemont Publishing & Printing Corp. page 142
  6. Jarry, Alfred. Ubu Roi. Dover. 2003
  7. Grimes, William. “David Ives's Quick-Hit Approach To Staging the Human Comedy” The New York Times. 4 January 1994 ISBN 9780879101831 page 286
  8. Guernsey, Otis. Sweet, Jeffrey. editors. The Best Plays of 1993-1994. Hal Leonard Corporation (1994)
  9. Collins, Scott. "Theater. Talk About Your Good Timing" Los Angeles Times, October 27, 1996
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Grimes, William. "David Ives's Quick-Hit Approach To Staging the Human Comedy" The New York Times, January 4, 1994
  11. Roszkowski, David. Canvas. Ballet, Arthur H. editor. Playwrights for Tomorrow: A Collection of Plays. Vol.11. University of Minnesota Press. 1979 page 6. ISBN 978-0816606979
  12. Gussow, Mel. "Review/Theater; 'Philip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread'" The New York Times, February 4, 1990
  13. Simon. “Laugh Trap.” New York Magazine. 3 June 1996
  14. Ives, David. Script Ancient History, Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1996, ISBN 0822215829, pp2-3
  15. Brantley, Ben. “Review/Theater: All in the Timing" The New York Times. 3 December 1993,
  16. Canby, Vincent. "Theatre; All in the Timing". The New York Times. 5 December 1993
  17. Awards Archive, 1993-1994" outercritics.org, accessed February 6, 2014
  18. Ives, David. Time Flies and Other Short Plays. Grove Press (2001) ISBN 9780802137586
  19. Guernsey, Otis L. Jr. The Best Plays of 1993-1994 (Best Plays Theater Yearbook). Limelight Editions; Anniversary edition (2004) ISBN 978-0879101831
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  21. "Theater Review; The Red Address". New York Daily News". 13 January 1997
  22. Ives, David. The Red Address. Dramatists Play Service (1998) ISBN 9780822216063
  23. Marks, Peter. “Review: Mere Mortals and Others”. The New York Times. 13 May 1997.
  24. Ives, David. Polish Joke and Other Plays: Including Don Juan in Chicago, Ancient History, The Red Address. Grove Press (2004) ISBN 978-0802141309
  25. Jacobson, Lynn. “Review: Polish Joke.” Variety. 27 July 2001
  26. Terry Teachout. "David Ives: A Celebration". Commentary Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Ives, David. The Other Woman and Other Short Pieces. Dramatists Play Service Inc. (2008) ISBN 9780822222606
  28. Ives, David. The Blizzard. Tumbler
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  31. All in the Timing, 2013 primarystages.org, accessed February 6, 2014
  32. 32.0 32.1 Ives, David. English Made Simple All in the Timing: Fourteen Plays (2010), Random House LLC, ISBN 0307772616
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  38. Wren, Celia. "Playwright David Ives updates "The Liar" for the Shakespeare Theatre Company" Washington Post, April 4, 2010
  39. Isherwood, Charles. "Theater Review. 'The School for Lies' " The New York Times, May 1, 2011
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  42. Healy, Patrick. "Back From the Depths, Rebuilding a Career" New York Times, February 7, 2010
  43. Healey, Patrick. "Run Extended for 'Venus in Fur'" The New York Times, February 3, 2010
  44. Isherwood, Charles. "One Object of Desire, Delivered" The New York Times, January 28, 2010
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  58. McKinley, Jesse. " 'Dance of the Vampires,' a $12 Million Broadway Failure, Is Closing" The New York Times, January 16, 2003
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  60. Hernandez, Ernio. Photo Call: Snow Falls on Broadway in White Christmas" playbill.com, November 21, 2008
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