David Ives

Sure Thing

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Sure Thing Summary

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Sure Thing is a short comic play by American playwright David Ives, first produced in 1988 and published in 1993. Taking place over ten minutes, it focuses on the chance meeting of two characters, Betty and Bill, who have their conversation constantly interrupted and reset by the use of a ringing bell that rings every time one of them responds negatively to something the other says. Dealing with themes of sexism, inner life and thoughts, and the role of fate and chance in what relationships influence our lives, Sure Thing debuted at Manhattan Punch Line’s Festival of One-Act Comedies, and was included in Ives’ collection of six short plays, All in the Timing, which premiered Off Broadway in 1993 and was revived at Primary Stages in 2013. The anthology won Ives the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award for Playwriting.

Sure Thing takes place entirely inside a cafe, and begins as Bill enters the eatery. He approaches Betty and asks her if the seat at her table is taken. She responds by saying yes, and a bell rings. This is the first of many times in the play that the bell will ring, and each time it does, it resets the conversation in progress. So Bill asks the same question again, and this time Betty tells him that she’s waiting for someone. The bell rings again, and the conversation starts over for the third time. This time, Betty tells Bill again that the seat is taken, but Bill tries to insist. She almost agrees to let him sit with her, but he makes a comment about how she never knows who she’s turning down. This offends her, and the bell rings again. He’s rejected one more time, but on the fifth try, Betty agrees to let him sit with her while she continues reading. He attempts to make some conversation, but Betty cuts him off, telling him she prefers to read in silence. The bell rings again.

In the next arc of the narrative, the two characters start talking again from the point when Betty agreed to let Bill sit with her. They start talking about literature, and are interrupted and reset by seven more bell rings during this portion. Eventually, they pull back from the topic and introduce themselves. Bill asks Betty if she comes to the cafe often. She originally says that she’s from Pakistan, but eventually admits that she frequently comes to this cafe. Next, they start talking about their relationships. The conversation starts over frequently. First, Betty tells Bill that she’s married. Then, she changes her story to say that she’s waiting for a boyfriend. Eventually, she says that she recently broke up with her boyfriend after a long relationship. She had tried to avoid the topic multiple times, but Bill now knows that she’s single and invites her to go to a movie with him. She refuses, and the bell rings again. The conversation starts over, and this time Bill talks about his failed relationships. He tells her that he’s also coming out of a long relationship and looking to start over.

The subject now shifts to politics, and this causes the bell to ring frequently. Bill causes the bell to ring every time he says something conservative, until he eventually says that he’s not affiliated with any party. Multiple times his answers come off as sexist or otherwise offensive, and each one causes the bell to ring as well. Then the subject turns again, to the point where Bill asked Betty to the movies. They both start talking at the same time about an upcoming film festival. When the topic turns to movies, they learn that they have very similar tastes in film, and in fact have a lot in common. Their relationship develops quickly at this point, without the bell ringing, and by the end of the play they’ve made plans to go out on a date. In the last scene, Betty asks Bill if he will always love her, and he responds in the affirmative. Their brief meeting over until the next time their relationship develops, they simultaneously call the waiter over to their table to order. This causes the bell to ring one final time.

David Ives is an American playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, best known for his comic one-act plays. Having been called the “Maestro of the short form”, he is also highly experienced in adapting French 17th- and 18th-century classical comedies, and has adapted thirty-three musicals for New York City’s Encores! series. He wrote his first play when he was nine, graduated from Northwestern University in 1971, and received a Master of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama in 1984. He has worked with collaborators including David Copperfield, Reba McEntire, and Stephen Sondheim on projects, and in 2004 debuted a new musical based on the music of Irving Berlin. He is also the author of The Phobia Clinic, an acclaimed horror novel told entirely in verse, and the young adult period piece Monsieur Eek.