Slaughter House -Five a hit at Custom Made

Alien abduction by the Tralfamadorians

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: Adapted by Eric Simonson. Directed by Brian Katz. Custom Made Theatre Company, Gough Street Playouse,1620 Gough St. (at Bush), San Francisco, CA 94109. Gough Street Playhouse is attached to the historic Trinity Episcopal Church 510-207-5774; September 16 –October 12, 2014

Slaughter House -Five a hit at Custom Made.   Rating: ★★★★☆

Kurt Vonnegut’s fame as a writer and social commentator on the futility and horror of war is well deserved. That fame was burnished when it was published in 1969 when the youth of the United States were rebelling against the futility of the Vietnam War that began in 1954 and became the burden of the U.S.A. in 1964. His writing captured the frustration of the populous and is labeled metafictional, where fact is intertwined with fiction forcing the reader to intellectually recognize the dichotomy and appreciate both.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a satirical novel following a soldier named Billy Pilgrim through actual World War II experiences intermingled with his travel to the mythical world of Tralfamador where death (“And so it goes.”) is an extension life. Vonnegut also takes us into forays of the minds depicting the hallucinations of his characters.  If you have read the book you will marvel at Custom Made’s adventurous staging and almost fully understand the multiple scenes that are simplistically, adroitly and powerfully staged by Brian Katz, one of the Bay Area’s best directors.  For those who are unfamiliar with the novel be advised to stay alert and the multiple non-linear scenes will coalesce.

Vonnegut’s experiences in World War II were the impetus for the novel with special reference to being a prisoner of war is Dresden when the city was fire-bombed by the Allies.  The only reason he lived through that nightmare was that he and other prisoners were housed in a concrete building labeled Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse #5).  He did not see the fire-bombing: “The attack didn’t sound like a hell of a lot. . .Whump. . . When we came up the city was gone.” The before and after of that incident is a significant thread throughout the novel.

The journey of the novel to a stage play begins with an adaption by Vince Foxall produced in London. Eric Simonson adapted and directed a new version for Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf group using many technical gimmicks. Simonson’s final adaptation appeared Off Broadway in 2008 and it is this version used by Custom Made. Following the storyline of the book the play maintains its non-linear structure and Katz has elected to abandon physical props relying on fast paced scenes and computer generated projections to buttress the dialog.  

Most, if not all, of the characters are there beginning with a narrator called

Dave Sikula as Man

Man (Dave Sikula) who is a stand-in for the author. Sikula is perfect for the role. Recognizing individual actors would require an extended review. It is a true ensemble production with each actor adding a quality performance to the whole doing justice to Vonnegut’s most popular work. Running time is one hour and 50 minutes without intermission.  Recommendation: Intriguing. A should see and will stimulate you to read the novel.


Cast: Ryan Hayes- Billy Pilgrim; Brian Martin- Young Billy Pilgrim; Dave Sikula – Man; Alun Anderman /Myles Cence – Billy Boy (alternating performances); Stephanie Ann Foster -Valencia/Derby/Ensemble; Sal Mattos -Weary/Rosewater/Ensemble; Chris Morrell – Chetwynde/Campbell/Ensemble; Jessica Jade Rudholm – Barbara/Tralafamadorian/Ensemble; Carina Lastimos Salazar – Montana Wildhack/Dotty/Ensemble; Paul Stout* -Kilgore Trout/Reggie/Ensemble; Sam Tillis – Lazzaro/Rumfoord/Ensemble

Production Crew: Brian Katz, Director; Cat Howser, Stage Manager; Christine Keating, Asst. Director; Sarah Phykitt, Scenic Designer; Maxx Kurzunski, Lighting Design
Karina Chavarin;  Costume Design Rebecca Longworth, Video Design Liz Ryder;  Sound Design; Daunielle Rasmussen;  Movement Stewart Lyle, Technical Director; Perry Aliado; Dramaturge.

Kedar K. Adour, MD