A Stellar Ensemble delivers Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five at Custom Made Theatre

It’s an engaging show, Slaughterhouse Five, especially if you are a Kurt Vonnegut fan. And given our continued involvement in war, certainly au courant raising issues about the physical and psychological destruction battle reeks and the reasons behind government decisions to continue bombing when the enemy (in this case Nazi Germany) is close to defeat.

The very precise choreographed movement throughout the play adds a visual element reminiscent of a well-trained military unit. The 90 minute play itself jumps through time and space as much as its main character Billy Pilgrim–played by several actors: Ryan Hayes, as adult Billy, Brian Martin as Young Billy, and Alun Anderman/Myles Cence alternating performances as Boy Billy.

Performed without an intermission, Slaughterhouse Five is Billy’s journey or rather several journeys in and out of Dresden, Germany before, during and after the firestorm bombing that incinerated the city that was once considered the cultural center of Northern Germany. One such journey takes Billy to the planet Tralfalmador where, unlike earth, peace is known to reign on occasion and Billy finds respite from earthly conflict. The narrator Man, presumably Vonnegut, (Dave Sikula) wanders in and out of the action much as he does in the novel itself. Adapted for stage by Eric Simonson of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre, Slaughterhouse Five is directed by Custom Made Artistic Director Brian Katz who rises to the most challenging aspect of the piece–keeping the threads of the story visible, a task much like dressing an octopus.  If there is any annoying aspect in the production, it might be the blinding flashes from the upstage baton of stage lights that assault the senses of anyone sitting in the center section of the venue. One can view this as a taste of torture experienced by the American soldiers placed in the P.O.W. holding cell of the slaughterhouse after capture by the Germans or just a dramatic indicator of change in time and space.

The ensemble’s work is stellar keeping the pace moving forward continuously. Among the highlights is the intense monologue about poisoning an annoying dog delivered by Sam Tillis as Paul Lazzaro –so reminiscent of the character Jerry in Albee’s Zoo Story. Speaking of Edward Albee, next up at Custom Made is his Three Tall Woman.

Slaughterhouse Five (or the Children’s Crusade) continues Thurs-Sat 8pm; Sun. 7pm; Sunday Oct 5 & 12 3pm. at Gough Street Playhouse 1620 Gough St (at Bush) SF. Tickets: $20-$50. Discounts available for Seniors, Students & TBA members. http://www.custommade.org/slaughterhouse

by Linda Ayres-Frederick