nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 11, 2013
A scene from Slaughterhouse-Five
This year at FringeNYC, True False Theatre has contributed Daria Tavana’s dramatization of Kurt Vonnegut’s most well-known novel Slaughterhouse-Five. The book is required reading for most American High School students and rightly so. The story is Vonnegut’s semi-autobiographical WWII satire that chronicles the adventures of Billy Pilgrim, a reluctant soldier who refuses to fight. It examines the illogical nature of humans and the decisions we make over the course of our lives.
The story is a mix of time-traveling sci-fi adventure, a beautifully flawed love stories and an epic war drama. In the original text Pilgrim is the narrator, guiding us through a sort of logical madness of out-of-sequence events that range from the day he met his wife Valencia, his wedding, undergoing treatment in a mental institution for Veterans, his old age and his time in the war specifically surviving the bombing of Dresden by hiding out in a building is known as "Schlachthof-fünf" or in English"Slaughterhouse Five.” The most bizarre and profound event depicted is an alien abduction where he is held in an alien Zoo (along with an American porn star named Montana Wildhack with whom he is expected to mate) where he is experimented upon by researchers on a planet called Tralfamador. This planet is inhabited by an extraterrestrial race who look like toilet plungers with a hand atop, in which is set a single eye. Sounds like a pretty crazy mix of genres and plot lines, right? Well, as a great fan of the original text I can tell you, when contained within the context of a novel the events really pan out and somehow make sense. Unfortunately, in this staged adaptation most of the novel’s most important storylines and overall worth fall through the cracks.
From the first moments of the performance it is evident that the feeling of the show will be over the top. The ensemble is working hard to dig in to show us the stakes of this wild ride. The text itself seems to have set up the actors for floundering simply because it relies too much on the assumption that the audience is very familiar with the original text. The group as a whole tends toward announcing their lines or whining them, rather than connecting to the life threatening, weird or even simply quiet moments throughout. Due to the fact that only a few of the scenes seem to be actual “scenes” there is scarce opportunity for the audience to get to know the characters. Tavana has broken the story down into upwards of 20 small moments which is likely an attempt to capture the Tralfamadorian idea of storytelling which is described as a clump of moments with no narrative structure that are simply beautiful and must be appreciated. In between each sene director Jenny Beth Snyder has the cast of 9 moving around the unnecessary set pieces that make up Pilgrim’s bedroom, the slaughterhouse, the experiment room at the Tralfamadorian Zoo and a variety of other locations. Snyder did her production a disservice by failing to thoroughly stage her transitions between these moments. The play runs about 90 minutes and I estimate that at least 25 of those minutes seem to be dedicated to the ensemble haphazardly scooting set pieces around. There is a way to make such transitions smooth and, ideally, a tool to assist in the story telling, but such ideas are not used here.
The real loss is that in such a smattering of concepts and philosophical ideas, we must rely on our connection to the characters to be our anchor. Sadly the choice of scenes paired with the overall soap opera-esque feeling of this production left me disappointed and confused. As the Tralfmadorians would say, “so it goes.”