According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Slaughterhouse Five or The Children's Crusade

Science fiction, war trauma and survival mechanisms are stirred together until there are practically no lumps in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse -Five or: The Children's Crusade. Purposeful and sharp direction, chameleonic actors, and a comprehensive adaptation of the novel make this experience existential, ethereal and cerebral, but those who are not open-minded about breaking theatrical barriers may not appreciate the sensory overload............................................................................
Reviewed by Cindy Pierre

Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade, is one of his most popular works, widely regarded as a classic. Drawing heavily from his experience as a prisoner of war during World War II, Vonnegut focuses on his psychological trauma with a science fiction lens while waxing poetic on the global human condition. And to top it all off, he uses time travel as a plot device. A veritable goldmine of concepts, inventiveness and vision, adapting the novel for the stage can either be a daunting task or a dream come true. Fortunately for playwright Eric Simonson and director Joe Tantalo, their collaboration makes it look like a piece of cake. And for the patron that likes a little bit of indulgence, this production hits many of the right spots.

When American soldier Billy Pilgrim is captured during the Battle of the Bulge by German soldiers, his lack of training in combat and his lack of conviction as a chaplain's assistant shines through. He's 23, and ill-prepared mentally and emotionally for the carnage that lies ahead. Billy, along with other prisoners, is transported to a slaughterhouse in Dresden that the Germans use as a makeshift prison. While holed up in there, air raids rain down on Dresden, forcing the prisons and their guards to retreat into a deep cellar to survive. Few make it out alive, and when Billy and the others return to the surface, they have to deal with the mayhem and massacre that awaits them.

From there, Billy becomes "unstuck" in time (not limited by chronology) through undefined means, and begins to randomly and repeatedly visit different stages of his life, from his combat time to civilian time with his wife. Although not the catalysts for his new condition, aliens from a planet named Tralfamadore (represented wonderfully by kneeling men with swaying lights in their palms) who see in four dimensions (the fourth being time) rather than three give him insight on his experiences. They introduce fatalism as the frame for what is happening to Billy.

Godlight Theatre Company's production of Slaughterhouse Five is a marvelous feat that would have crumbled if everyone involved wasn't so committed, talented and disciplined. Production designer Maruti Evans splatters blood on the floor and suspends dog tags and helmets from the ceiling on large hooks that unmistakably and metaphorically emulate the butchery of the soldiers. It is a visual that keeps the audience grounded in the reality that inspires the fantastical elements of the play. Joe Tantalo's strong and purposeful direction keep the cast of ten in line, and his corralling skills are needed for the limited performance space of Theater C at 59 E 59th street theatres. Movement director Hachi Yu and fight choreographer Josh Renfree work wonders to emulates the rapidness in which Billy's life scenes unfold in this production, making every cinema-like vignette fluid and well-constructed. Sound designer Andrew Recinos creates original music that catapult you to the war scenes, but pointedly, they're not places that you want to stay in for long. The cast is generally impressive, but Aaron Paternoster distinguishes himself as the character actor and Gregory Konow is reflective of post-traumatic stress disorder in a subtle way as adult Billy Pilgrim. As the actress embodying all of the female characters, Deanna McGovern holds her own against the boys.

Although the play doesn't explore Billy's affluent life as an optometrist, the second major theme in the novel, this production is still very comprehensive and flattering to the original material. It keeps almost all of the senses invested and like the novel, challenges conventional storytelling. Though an exciting production, those who don't like plot scrambles and theory intersections will be perturbed. Chaotic until the quiet, seemingly incomplete ending, Slaughterhouse Five is part anti-war, part absurdist fantasy, and all intellectually stimulating. It is a must- see for not only Vonnegut fans, but for those who don't like traditional theater.


Through February 17th. Tickets: $25 212-279-4200
59E59's Theater C 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison

Avenues, New York, NY 10025

No comments: