AN OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF KURT VONNEGUT’S “SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE” (OR THE CHILDREN CRUSADE”

 

 

Custom Made Theatre Company has dazzlingly mounted Eric Simonson’s stage adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” (or The Children’s Crusade).  Ten company members vividly play the multitude of characters that inhabit the story. Director Brian Katz put these fine actors through their paces in this 90 minute production.

 

“Slaughterhouse-Five” is exceedingly difficult to describe this anti-war plot since like the book  it bounces all over the place and there are actors quickly moving in and out of characters to impressionistic Billy’s war-induced dreams and hallucinations.  However I will attempt to explain the plot.  This is about an American World War 2 named Billy Pilgrim who becomes “unstuck in time” after being kidnapped by a race of aliens. They have lent him their power to see in four dimensions and teach him that “no one ever dies” because they are always alive in the past.

 

The audience sees that Chaplain’s Assistant Billy Pilgrim, a mixed-up, fatalistic and ill-trained American soldier is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge. He and fellow prisoners are housed in a disused slaughterhouse in Dresden known as “Slaughterhouse #5”. A combination of American and British bombers firebomb the city of Dresden and POWs and German guards alike hide in a deep cellar and because of their safe hiding place, they are some of the few survivors of the city-destroying firestorm during the bombing.

Billy Pilgrim is played by three persons. When he is a boy enduring his father’s cruelty played excellently by Alum Anderman. Brian Martin impressively plays Young Billy who survived the firebombing of Dresden.  His face shows fear and fatigue, suggesting reality is still present onstage.  The blending of two states is charismatic. Ryan Hayes gives a solid performance as the adult Billy who was abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians who motivate him to make wild-eyed proclamations back on earth.  . You can understand the character’s confusion and exhaustion as his life seem to be beyond his control.

The three Billy’s are  joined by Dave Sikula who plays the narrator and maybe an unreliable narrator intentionally exposing him as the author of the story. He gives an outstanding performance with his great powerful voice. Also in this splendid cast are Stephanie Ann Foster, Sal Mattos, Chris Morrell, Jessica Jade Rudholm, Carina Lastimosa Salazar, Paul Stout and Sam Tillis playing various roles.

Brian Katz bleeds the past into future simply.  His tightly scenes always clarify which era we’re visiting. Sarah Phykitt scenic design is simple for the three sided theatre while Maxx Kurzunki’s lighting gives the illusion that these events happen simultaneously. Karina Chavarin costumes are authentic World War 2 uniforms along with other excellent civilian dress ware. Special mention should be given to Rebecca Longworth’s videos line drawing showed on the wall of the three sided theatres. These line drawing are similar to those seen in the “Slaughterhouse-Five” novel along with “Breakfast of Champions” and all of Vonnegut’s subsequent novels.

“Slaughterhouse-Five” is a challenging evening of theatre and Brian Katz and company pull this off with a grand style. This production runs through October 12th at the Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St at Bush, San Francisco.  For tickets go to www.custommade.org/slaughterhouse