David Ives is renowned for his Seinfeld-like humor, for his ability to think “what if” and turn it into an astoundingly funny play. The same is true of his work All in the Timing and more specifically the scene entitled “Sure Thing.” The scene centers around two youngish people at a café. Ives has asked himself the question, “what if two would-be lovers are given the chance to start over when their relationship hits a snag?” Working from this foundational idea he constructs a witty one-act. The language adds to the play in that it lends itself to quick wit and to fast pace comedy style action. Because of the nature of such a play, the structure is very discombobulated. The conflict exists that the lovers have a hard time “getting it right” and serves as an exploration of modern relationships in general. Through metaphors Ives gets at some deeper issues than are apparent at first glance. He pulls all of these factors together in order to prove a point about our society and its effects on our relationships.
Throughout most of the play the language is comprised of quick one-liners. The quick interchanges, consisting of only a few syllables each, usually, keep the pace of the play up, which is crucial in this type of comedy. Ives has constructed a brilliant piece but its true beauty is only fully realized at a fairly rapid pace where the audience is left unprepared for lines such as, “So what if I don’t have a penis?” And, “What’s a sort-of girlfriend?” “My mother.” Time and again Ives hits the audience with a surprise and leaves them no time to recover for the next change in topic. This would become overwhelming if the play were not so short.
As far as structure is concerned, Ives is forced to be unorthodox due to the nature of the play. Because the scene is about two people meeting each other for the first time there is not much exposition; the audience learns that there is a man and woman who have never met before and who seem to be the focus of some romantic situation. The audience is also introduced to the infamous bell that will become so familiar as the play progresses. The complication happens immediately as well. When the first attempt at something does not work and the bell rings, the situation resets and the audience sees for the first time the cycling the characters are now locked into. The rising action takes up the vast majority of the play and is where the brunt of Ives humor occurs. At the end, the play quickly builds to a climax in which the physical release can be seen in the characters. In the end, Ives lets the last line of the climax, “Waiter!” (21) serve as conclusion as well.
The play, with its abrupt start, serves as an example of how many modern relationships start: people meet, find each other attractive, and before really getting to know each other jump headlong into a full relationship. In the end Ives stops everything suddenly at the climax seemingly without thought for what might be considered a proper conclusion. This is Ives way of portraying the way many modern relationships set up sex as the ultimate end without ever seeking for some deeper meaning to the relationship.
There are a couple strong metaphors dealing with social standing, namely college or academics in general and location of home. College is referred to a couple of times throughout the play and is one representation of the status of the individuals in society. The differing education levels are apparent throughout the play. Often it is Betty who is the more intelligent: “The Sound and the Fury,” “Oh. Hemingway.” Ives puts in a striking irony where Bill states that “Labels are not important, exactly…what does it matter if I have a two-point at - (Bell) - three-point at - (Bell) - four-point at college?” This points clearly to the importance that is placed on labels in our society. At the very end education is one way in which Ives shows the ridiculous nature of their relationship; they plan on three children going to “Harvard, Vassar, and Brown.”
Location of home is brought up a couple of times. It also is an indicator of class and acceptability which is clearly shown as Bill moves up “from Pittsburgh,” to “Westchester County.” But this is not the only time location plays an important role in their relationship. Bill is instantly put-off when he discovers that Betty hails from "Pakistan." The fact that all of this is happening in a city is such a big deal that it becomes a metaphor itself.
The characters have a long conversation about “city life.” In this section they make astute observations such as, “Amazing how you can live right next door to somebody in this town and never even know it.” This is a striking conviction about the impersonal way we lead our lives and the effect, modern relational problems, becomes apparent in the continued failings of Bill’s and Betty’s attempts at a relationship. The conversation about the impersonal city life leads directly into them exploring each other’s past relationships. City life becomes a metaphor for the modern way in which we have our relationships. The destructive nature of these relationships is represented by one of the two characters having just ended a relationship or of having a relationship that is outside of society’s norms: she who is married “in spite of current sentiments against it,” she who is a lesbian, he who has two girlfriends, one who is pregnant, or he who is with his mother.
One key metaphor found in the play is the reference to The Sound and the Fury, a book by William Faulkner. The book’s title is a reference to a soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth that talks about how life is a shadow of the past. This theme is consistent with “Sure Thing.” Time, in the scene, repeats itself, creating a shadow of the past. Also, in reference to reading that book Bill tells Betty that “It’s all in the timing,” which happens to be the title of this collection of scenes. This is further insight into Ives’s view of relationships: much of what one gets out of a relationship is dependent on something as arbitrary as time. Faulkner’s treatment of time in The Sound and the Fury is based on its relativity between different people. Ives, therefore, is saying that relationships themselves are relative, and there exists no one mold by which all relationships should be formed.
Woody Allen’s movie Bananas is a metaphor for the ridiculous nature of the relationship between Bill and Betty and a backdrop for the scene itself. The movie is about Fielding Mellish who falls in love with Nancy. Nancy, a political activist, does not feel that Fielding is good enough for her. He starts attending political rallies to impress her and eventually becomes the president of San Marcos. Now that he is important and no longer a mere consumer products tester she falls in love with him. Until there are changes of ridiculous proportion made, it is not socially acceptable for these two people to start a relationship, which is the same situation that Bill and Betty are in.
The metaphorical title of this play, “Sure Thing,” points to the need for a sure thing when dating. Throughout the entire play there is almost always one character who is looking for a sure thing in a relationship and in most of the situations this causes a bell to sound. In the beginning when Betty doesn’t know Bill, to dismiss him she says, “Sure thing,” as if to remind him that she’s only looking for a sure thing, like the person she’s waiting for. At the end she closes with “Sure thing,” now that she has made certain that Bill is in fact a sure thing. In the beginning we only see the relationship advancing when one of the characters takes a chance, such as in Betty letting Bill sit down with her, which is one point Ives is trying to make: sure things do not lead to normative relationships.
The conflict of the play at first seems simply that the two would-be lovers cannot seem to get it right. They try again and again but the bell always interrupts them. Looking deeper though, one begins to see the overall commentary on society Ives is presenting. The conflict could be stated as being that Bill wants to start a relationship with Betty but social needs dictate that one or the other of them is unworthy of the other at different points in the play. Once certain conditions are met the relationship can proceed. Ives asks the question, “if we were given infinite chances to get a relationship right would we end up with the perfect relationship?”And the answer is yes, if we led perfect lives we would have perfect relationships. But Ives also wants us to see the uselessness in chasing after this ideal. Ives, through “Sure Thing,” presents the idea that a world where we are impersonal to neighbors, where we rely on society to dictate what’s okay for us, and where we only want what’s safe, leads to ridiculous relationships.