Monthly Archive for: ‘May, 2017’

Mother Night an ambitious, powerful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel at Custom Made

Cast of Mother Night at Custom Made Theatre

Mother Night: The Kurt Vonnegut Novel adapted and directed by Brian Katz. Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St (Floor 2), San Francisco. 510-207-5774 or

May 28-June 24, 2017

Mother Night an ambitious, powerful adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel at Custom Made. Rating: ★★★★☆1/2

The love affair between Kurt Vonnegut’s writing and Artistic Director Brian Katz of the Custom Made Theatre group continues with their latest production. Their initial foray into Vonnegut’s world was the award winning 2014 staging of “Slaughter House Five” in their miniscule black box Gough Street Playhouse using the Eric Simonson 2008 Off-Broadway adaptation and directed by Katz. This time around Katz has personally adapted Vonnegut’s short novel Mother Night and directed it at their 99 seat proscenium arch venue where it loses none of its intimacy again holding the audience spellbound.

The title “Mother Night” is usurped from Goethe’s “Faust” inferring that darkness came before light and we (the World?) shall  return to darkness that supports one of Vonnegut’s morals, “When you’re dead you’re dead.” But his major moral truisms in Mother Night are: “You must be careful what you pretend to be, because, in the end, you are what you pretend to be”, and “Make love when you can. It’s good for you.”

Once again Vonnegut uses his famous metafictional style, where fact is intertwined with fiction forcing the reader to intellectually recognize the dichotomy and appreciate both. On opening night a technical problem with the lighting cues caused some confusion with the multiple scenes that needed coordinated timing. However, none of that detracted from Katz’s clever direction that required some changes with a bulky bed that was integral to his moral about love.

It all starts when the major fictional character is Howard W. Campbell Jr. (Chris Morrell)sitting at typewriter telling his story starting with “ I, Howard W. Campbell, Jr. am an American by birth, a Nazi by reputation, and a nationless person by inclination. I am awaiting a fair trial for my war crimes by the state of Israel.” Although there are flashbacks, the story remains linear while incorporating the past events leading to the present action.  For those of us who are unfamiliar with the novel be advised to stay alert and the multiple non-linear scenes will coalesce.

Vonnegut’s novel and Katz’s adaptation have book-ended the story  with Campbell in first and last scenes in the Israeli prison writing his memoirs.

The early part of the story is Germany before World War II where Campbell, now in his late-20s has become a noted playwright married to a famous actress Helga (Megan Briggs). He is the son of Americans, has lived there since age 11, is fluent in German and elects to remain as the Nazis rise to power and he joins the party. He insists “I’m not a political man, I’m just not. I’m an artist… If a war comes, it’s just going to have to get along without me.” He is chosen by the Party to broadcast ideas justifying their anti-Jewish philosophy. While visiting the zoo Campbell meets U.S. War Department  agent Francis Wirtanen (AJ Davenport) who encourages him to spy for the U.S.A. “I call him my blue fairy godmother because no one believes he existed” and hesitantly broadcasts propaganda while sending secret codes to the Allies. He is very convincing and when he visits his in-laws and meets Helga’s younger sister Resi he learns the effectiveness of his radio broadcasts.

After the war Campbell has been captured by the Americans but his “blue Angel” arranges for him to be sent to Greenwich Village to live an anonymous life. Vonnegut moves forward to the 1960s and unfortunately, Lionel Jones, D.D.S, D. D. (Catz Forsman) the head of a white supremacist organization discovers his existence and makes him a cause célèbre, inviting him to speak to new recruits as a “true American patriot”. Jones shows up at Campbell’s apartment with a woman claiming to be his much loved Helga. She is really Resi but Campbell is willing escape to Mexico City with her and the neighbor painter George Kraft (Dave Sikula) who is actually a Russian agent.

Campbell’s “blue Angel” intercedes and in a turbulent scene offers to again send Campbell into hiding.  His spirit is broken and he arranges to be “captured” by the Mosad returning to Israeli to stand trial for his transgressions even after he receives a letter from George “Blue Angel” Wirtanen that would set him free.

Mother Night is a satirical tragic story that resonates in the present especially with the attacks on the press and the acceptance of “fake news.” The Custom Made theatre’s staging, directing and acting as seven actors playing dozens of roles do great justice to Kurt Vonnegut’s novel given life by Brian Katz’s adaptation. Running time is about two hours and 30 minutes (including the intermission) that race by with a strong recommendation by this reviewer.

CAST: Chris Morrell – Howard W. Campbell, Jr.; David Boyll – Bernard O’Hare, ensemble; Megan Briggs – Helga Noth, ensemble; AJ Davenport – Francis Wirtanen, ensemble; Catz Forsman – Lionel Jones, ensemble; Adam Niemann – Dr. Epstein, ensemble; Dave Sikula – George Kraft, ensemble.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Brian Katz; Stage Manager, Kalon Thibodeaux; Scenic Designer, Daniel Thibilodeaux; Costume Designer, Brooke Jennings; Lighting Designer, Maxx Kurzunski; Sound Designer, Ryan Lee Short; Properties Designer, Stephanie Dittbern; Production Manager, Beth Hall; Fight Choreographer, Jon Bailey; Master Carpenter, Anthony Aranda; Key Art Designer, Richard Gutierrez.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of

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