All in the Timing, Ad Astra Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory, and Welcome to the Moon, Ad Astra Theatre Company, at the Cornservatory. These two programs of one-acts serve as showcases for the new Ad Astra Theatre Company–or that’s the theory anyway. In fact the material is weak and treacherous enough, and directed poorly enough, that the actors benefit little from the exposure.

David Ives in All in the Timing uses his knack for word salad to demonstrate that language impedes rather than contributes to communication. This rather dry message is worth getting only when it comes packaged in pitch-perfect performances–yes, flawlessly timed. Director John Luzar’s ensemble fails on both counts, indicating every joke while strolling through material intended for a sprint. The most successful sketch is “Words, Words, Words,” in which three monkeys with typewriters try to write Hamlet: perhaps simian energy is the key to pacing. Megan Schemmel is absurdly charming as she scratches her cheek with her toe while reading what she’s written–which is not Hamlet, of course, but Paradise Lost.

After 90 minutes of Ives’s academic wit, John Patrick Shanley’s Welcome to the Moon is a shock. (All in the Timing plays Fridays and Shanley’s program Saturdays, but they can be seen together in a sketch-a-thon Sundays.) Moonstruck screenwriter and exponent of the grand romantic gesture, Shanley is less a playwright than a composer of operatic speeches featuring banalities pretending to be profound. A director could highlight the comedy in this, and when Luzar does so in “Down & Out”–having the Poet and his Love emote in idiotically high-flown language about his lack of a pencil–the results are enjoyable. (Ryan Colwell is suitably over-the-top as the Poet and also handles himself well as the most self-aware of Ives’s monkeys.)

The rest of the pieces fall into that melodramatic no-man’s-land between comedy and drama: people are speechifying and acting like fools and yet we’re expected to care about them. Kindergarten pageants have smoother scene changes: stripping the production down to bare essentials might help. The real necessity, though, is good material. These scenes must be irresistible audition fodder, but actors should have a better reason than that to put them onstage.