|Poster for Slaughterhouse-Five at Book-It Repertory Theatre|
Book-It Repertory Theatre
Through July 3, 2015
Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war opus, Slaughterhouse-Five, is a wildly inventive, irreverent (mostly) and fantastical story of a hapless fellow named Billy Pilgrim. The last name hints at the character’s search for a fulfilling life, like the Pilgrims coming to America.
It’s a complicated and far-flung text that has been taken on by Book-It Repertory Theatre in a massive and fully-realized adaptation. The intrepid adaptor (and director), Josh Aaseng, took on this project and decided on a practical, yet ingenious, way to portray the character. He broke the character into a young man, a middle aged man, and an older man.
The key to the success of that decision is: Billy Pilgrim is unstuck from time. In fact, he is essentially in several different “times” at once. How can you portray that on stage without having an actor dash chaotically from one scene to another (not to mention change costuming dozens of times)? Make him into three parts.
Robert Bergin plays the young Billy, a soldier during World War Ii who is caught in the Dresden firestorm that no one thought would happen. Erik Gratton plays the middle aged Billy, who goes to Planet Tralfamadore and lives there in a zoo – AS A ZOO ANIMAL – and sometimes comes back to Earth to his optometric practice. Todd Jefferson Moore is the older Billy, who gives lectures on time travel and is not taken seriously by his daughter.
The script is so complicated, it needs a narrator, so Jim Gall plays Kurt Vonnegut among others. Vonnegut wrote in first person, so that is completely true to the book. In fact, Vonnegut starts the play, and the book, by explaining how long he had tried to write a book about Dresden and how many times he had failed.
There is this horrendous historic moment that Vonnegut wants to address, and the play does address it, but in a manner so transitory and oblique, sometimes, that it’s possible to miss the pain of the experience for huge chunks of the play. However, there are scenes that will not let you avoid them, and a recognition of war’s terrible toll is woven into the telling of a life.
Vonnegut has long been one of my favorite authors and I looked forward to seeing what Book-It could do with it! So, I cannot look at the production without measuring it to the book and thinking, “Yep, that tracks… yes, that tracks.” I can’t put myself into the shoes of someone who doesn’t know a thing about the book besides maybe knowing they’ve heard of the title.
However, a number of people I spoke with on opening night had never read the book, but understood the complicated story just fine. And very much liked what they saw.
So, for those who read the book, I believe you will love this adaptation! You will love the faithfulness of what you see. You will find yourself wanting to say, “So it goes,” again!
You will love the cast. You will love the absolutely amazing rendition of the Tralfamadorians by Ben Burris and Zane Exactly! You will enjoy the choreography of Emily Penick and the robust sound design of Matt Starritt. You will appreciate the range of costuming by Pete Rush and the lighting of Kent Cubbage.
The set by Catherine Cornell spans worlds and decades with a minimalist aesthetic that keeps set changes extremely fast and unimpeding. Beds fly in and out on wheels and then are dumped over as Dresden burns. The economy of physical elements is an essential timesaver!
Every cast member in this large show contributes in multiple ways. They all deserve mention. Martyn G. Krouse plays a fellow soldier who lived through Dresden. Jocelyn Maher plays both Billy’s wife and daughter. Cobey Mandarino plays a soldier who does not make it through Dresden. Benjamin McFadden plays a soldier who plans revenge on Pilgrim. Joshua Ryder plays a soldier who blames Pilgrim unfairly. Eleanor Moseley plays the wife of Pilgrim’s friend. Rory Eaden, Riley Shanahan and Jason Slown are soldiers and multiple others.
Sydney Tucker plays Montana Wildhack, a film actress who gets put in the zoo with Pilgrim to procreate! She gets special mention for the bravery, along with Gratton, of managing the necessary fact that zoo animals do not wear clothes!
Similarly to Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, some years back, this is an adapted production that you’ll remember with fondness and appreciation for years. Get tickets now!