40TH ANNIVERSARY REVIVAL! Sacred Fools closes its 20th season with a recently rediscovered adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s counterculture masterpiece. In 1977, genre maestro Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator: The Musical, Taste) adapted the novel for Chicago’s Organic Theater with the approval and input of Vonnegut himself. Sacred Fools is proud to present his stage adaptation for the first time in forty years, newly updated by Gordon and now more timely than ever. Director Ben Rock (Baal, Occupation) brings to the stage this visually dazzling and darkly humorous science fiction epic about what happens when the richest man in the world loses everything, sets out on an unbelievable journey through space and time, and discovers nothing less than the meaning of life.
"RECOMMENDED / TOP TEN... an impressive accomplishment... The Sirens of Titan is an accomplished and ultimately moving play, and this production is well worth seeing." -Terry Morgan, Stage Raw
"Sacred Fools' production of The Sirens of Titan is wildly imaginative... very clever staging that takes full advantage of the intimate theater space to bring you into the world Gordon and Vonnegut have created." -Beth Accomando, KPBS/Cinema Junkies
"It's a faithful adaptation with a terrific cast and impressive production value... get your tickets now." -Robert B. Weide, Kurt Vonnegut Documentary / Producer, Kurt Vonnegut's "Mother Night" (1996)
"...a wildly entertaining exploration of what it means to be human, as well as a deeply moving experience that I enjoyed immensely." -Heather Wixson, Daily Dead
"...a feast for the eyes and the intellect, with an excellent cast that goes for broke with heartfelt emotion..." -Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes
"...an excellent production... a joy to watch..." -Daniel P. Faigin, Observations Along the Road
as Malachi Constant
Jaime Andrews as Beatrice Rumfoord
Eric Curtis Johnson as Winston Niles Rumfoord
Jax Ball as Young Chrono / Ensemble
K.J. Middlebrooks as Boaz / Ensemble
Jesse Merlin as Salo / Ensemble
Dennis Neal as Redwine / Ensemble
Tifanie McQueen as Mrs. Peterson / Ensemble
Tim Kopacz as Kazak / Stony Stevenson / Ensemble
with Keith Szarabajka as The Voice
and Emily Kosloski as The Voice of the Sirens
as Malachi Constant
Libby Baker as Beatrice Rumfoord
Paul Plunkett as Winston Niles Rumfoord
Adriana Colón as Young Chrono / Ensemble
Gabriel Croom as Boaz / Kazak / Stony Stevenson / Ensemble
Corey Klemow as Salo / Ensemble
Brendan Broms as Redwine / Ensemble
Missy Mannila as Mrs. Peterson / Ensemble
Produced for Sacred Fools by Shaela Cook
Associate Producer - Bo Powell
Assistant Director - Scott Golden
Stage Manager - Maggie Marx
Dramaturge - Alicia Conway Rock
Scenic Designer - Krystyna Łoboda
Key Scenic - Hillary Bauman
Lighting Designer - Matthew Richter & Adam Earle
Costume Designer - Jennifer Christina DeRosa
Assistant Costume Designer - Ruth Silveira
Sound Designer - Jaime Robledo
Prop Designer - Lisa Anne Nicolai
Assistant Prop Designer - Emily Donn
Projection Designer - Hat & Suitcase
Puppet/Creature Designer - Russ Walko
Score Composer - Michael Teoli
Hair and Makeup Artist - Angela Santori Merritt
Choreographer - Cj Merriman
Military Advisor - Chairman Barnes
Marketing Associate Producer - Bob DeRosa
Projection Tech - Brian Wallis
Additional Video Footage Created by - Kays Alatrakchi
Lead Builder - Nathan Shoop
Electricians - Marian Gonzalez , Rebecca Schoenberg, Maggie Marx & Anthony Backman
Casting Coordinator - Annette Fasone
Performance Photography - Jessica Sherman Photography
Poster Art - Gabe Leonard
Title Text - Jack Townsend
- Sacred Fools Company Member
One of the great themes in in the writing of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is the lack of free will in characters who don’t know they’re being used. Moreover, should these characters find out they’re being manipulated, they certainly don’t know why or how to stop it. In this “post fact” era, when it’s accepted that our president lies to us every day, the new Sacred Fools production of Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan seems very timely.
On a flight to Mars, astronaut Winston Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) and his dog are caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, a time-space warp that sends them back to Earth for short periods every two months. Malachi Constant (Pete Caslavka), one of the world’s richest men, is surprised when Rumfoord tells him that, in the future, he will mate with Rumfoord’s wife, Beatrice (Jaime Andrews), and end up on Saturn’s moon Titan. Constant, of course, believes none of this, and thus is surprised when his life begins to veer completely out of his control.
Johnson is superb as Rumfoord, peeling away layers of the character as the play proceeds and metamorphosing from a seeming straightforward pleasantness to an underlying tyranny to a final angry realization that he may be the most helpless and manipulated individual of all. Caslavka creates a great deal of sympathy for the initially arrogant Constant as the character endures every heartbreaking thing the universe throws at him. Andrews’ role of Beatrice seems less three-dimensional; she generally just comes off as angry, but this may be more the fault of the adaptation than the performer. K. J. Middlebrooks, Jesse Merlin and Dennis Neal are all terrific in multiple roles.
Director Ben Rock keeps the heavy-duty plot moving along smoothly, and doesn’t let the sci-fi trimmings overshadow Vonnegut’s mood of sadly bemused tragedy. Stuart Gordon’s adaptation is faithful to the novel yet still works as theatre, which is always an impressive accomplishment. The show benefits from Matt Richter and Adam Earle’s moody lighting, while Jaime Robledo’s sound design immerses the audience in a 1950’s era science-fiction vibe. Russ Walko’s creature designs, which range from an adorable huge dog to a fantastical three-limbed spherical alien, add tremendously to the production.
The Sirens of Titan is an accomplished and ultimately moving play, and this production is well worth seeing. And if its main messages are somewhat despairing, its author does serve up an antidote, via the hapless Constant: “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
© 2017 Stage Raw
Cinema Junkies Episode 115: Stuart Gordon, Kurt Vonnegut and "Sirens Of
Sacred Fools Theater Company brings 40-year-old adaptation of Vonnegut novel to stage
Journey across the galaxy for a talk with Stuart Gordon about adapting Kurt Vonnegut's "The Sirens of Titan' to the stage 40 years ago and seeing it revived now at Sacred Fools Theater Company.
Forty years ago, Stuart Gordon adapted Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “The Sirens of Titan” to the stage. Now, Sacred Fools Theater Company in Los Angeles is reviving that adaptation and finding it surprisingly topical.
Cinema Junkie Podcast takes another theater field trip to look at how Sacred Fools unearthed Gordon’s 1977 play and mounted a new production.
Gordon is probably best known for directing such cult horror classics as “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond.” But he initially worked in theater before turning to a career in film. A few years back, he created a brilliant musical adaptation of “Re-Animator” called “Re-Animator The Musical.” I became an avid fan of that show and followed it to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You can check out my podcast about that fabulous show in Cinema Junkie Episode 41.
In 1977, he adapted and then directed a stage version of Vonnegut’s “The Sirens of Titan” for Chicago’s Organic Theater. He even worked with Vonnegut on the adaptation, and the novelist insisted that he not be overly faithful to the original text. In fact, Gordon recalled, Vonnegut suggested he treat the material as if “I’ve been dead for 10 years.”
For Sacred Fools, Ben Rock directs the new production. Rock and Gordon previously collaborated on the Ovation-nominated cannibalistic love story “Taste,” which I included in Cinema Junkie Podcast 113 on Gourmet Cannibals.
In case you can't tell, I love Stuart Gordon’s work so make an effort to check this new show out.
© 2017 KPBS
Jump to 02:16:25 for the Kurt Vonneguys podcast review of The Sirens of Titan!
--Alex Schmidt & Michael Swaim
© 2017 Kurt Vonneguys
To get to the cosmic vastness of The Sirens of Titan, one must start with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the much-loved writer of such quirky novels as Cat’s Cradle and God Bless, You Mr. Rosewater, as well as the devastating, satirical anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and many others. Mr. Vonnegut was a product of his times, the Great Depression, World War II, the Eisenhower Fifties and the psychedelic Sixties. He was an atheist and a humanist who had love in his heart for people, those who suffer and struggle against the often random, confounding situations of life.
In The Sirens of Titan, a singular individual, the richest man in a future America, gets embroiled in the chronosphere of the time-space continuum that is uncontrollable as it buffets him around the solar system. There are clear influences at play here, most notably the Odyssey of Homer, as might be deduced from the title. In the stage adaptation by Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame, there are theatrical influences as well. The play is Brechtian in it presentational style with direct didactic speeches to the audience reinforced by words on signs and projections. One can also see whiffs of Samuel Beckett, with characters trapped in their circumstances like the woman in Happy Days who lives in a hillock with only her torso to be seen, or the old people in Endgame who live in dustbins.
Even if I wanted to fully recount the twisting plot of The Sirens of Titan, it is too detailed and convoluted to do so in what I intend to be a relatively short commentary. In brief then, a wealthy, effete New Englander, Winston Niles Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) rockets into outer space accompanied by his dog, Kazak (delightfully portrayed by Tim Kopacz in a terrific dog suit), only to be sucked into a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum,” which the novel defines as “those places…where all the different kinds of truths fit together.” Rumfoord’s circumstances only allow him to return to Earth for a limited time and only at certain intervals. His situation permits him to see all of the future as well as the past. He is a manipulative son of a bitch who reveals to the multi-billionaire mentioned above, Malachi Constant (Pete Caslavka), and to his bitter self-absorbed wife, Beatrice (Jaime Andrews), that he knows their fate, which is that they will travel to Mars where Beatrice will become pregnant by Malachi in a union that will produce a son named Chrono (Jax Ball).
As the plot surges on, our dubious hero, Malachi, gets pressed into the Martian Army, loses his memory, is re-named Unc, and becomes a survivor of a war between Earth and Mars. Along with another survivor of that war, Boaz (K.J. Middlebrooks), Unc, through the unaccountable vagaries of time/space, becomes a castaway on Mercury, and eventually winds up on Saturn’s moon, Titan, where he reunites with Beatrice and Chrono. There he encounters Salo (the amazing, protean actor Jesse Merlin), a pumpkin shaped robot with three arms from the planet, Tralfamadore. Understand that there is much, much more that is left for an audience to discover. So, what about the Sirens? See the play.
The Sirens of Titan is a big production, a satire that spoofs religion, social interaction, evil power structures, the insanity of war and more. Director Ben Rock, with some notable exceptions, moves the action along crisply, well aided by a flexible, tongue-in-cheek scenic design by Krystyna Łoboda, with excellent lighting by Matt Richter and Adam Earle. Costuming by Jennifer Christina DeRosa is clever and colorful. Projections by Hat & Suitcase are terrific, as is the sound design by Jaime Robledo.
The Sirens of Titan is a feast for the eyes and the intellect, with an excellent cast that goes for broke with heartfelt emotion and a total commitment to the style of the show. This script was last produced in Chicago forty years ago and who knows if or when it will ever be produced again. If you want to see and experience something totally unique, get on down to Sacred Fools where The Sirens of Titan has been extended through May 13.
© 2017 Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes
Interview: Ben Rock and Stuart Gordon on the Timely 40th Anniversary Live Theatre Revival of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s THE SIRENS OF TITAN
Over the weekend, history was made in the live theatre world of Los Angeles, as Ben Rock and the legendary Stuart Gordon revived the stage play version of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s novel The Sirens of Titan for the Sacred Fools Theater. Gordon, who first tackled the darkly comedic sci-fi tale 40 years ago for Chicago’s Organic Theater, once again handled the screenplay adaptation for this new take on the classic story of a man who must lose everything to understand what life truly is all about. The result is a wildly entertaining exploration of what it means to be human, as well as a deeply moving experience that I enjoyed immensely.
After the premiere performance this past Friday, Daily Dead had the opportunity to chat with both Rock and Gordon (who are reteaming once again after a successful collaboration on Taste, a cannibal-themed dramatic production that also played at Sacred Fools) about taking on the timeless messages of The Sirens of Titan, the differences of adapting Vonnegut Jr.’s material in the 1970s versus now, how Jerry Garcia wanted to make a feature film version of the book at one point (with Bill Murray in a starring role), and more.
Congrats on tonight, guys. I had a lot of fun and the crowd was a blast. Let’s go ahead and start with you, Stuart. This was something that you took on 40 years ago, which blows my mind, and here you are once again taking on this story. What was different for you this time around, versus the first time you adapted the book?
Stuart Gordon: Well, it's interesting. We approached that first production very differently than this one. Vonnegut, when he wrote the book, was commenting on World War II, and Rumfoord, I think, is supposed to be Roosevelt, actually, and we really played that up in our productions. We had Dennis Franz playing Rumfoord, and he did it with the cigarette holder, where he talked like Roosevelt, and the character of Beatrice was Eleanor Roosevelt. My wife played the part, so we had fake teeth for her so she would look like Eleanor Roosevelt.
So, it was a wholly different approach to the material. And Vonnegut was surprised because he said no one had ever realized that's really what the book was about, that it was about him feeling used during the war. But now, doing it 40 years later, that seems like such a distant memory. Most people were losing many of those people who were actually in World War II.
When Ben brought it back, I hadn't read the play in years. It still seemed very fresh, though, and it seemed very much about today. Ben was explaining some of his ideas, and I thought they sounded great.
Ben, as I was reading your director’s note in the program booklet, I thought it was interesting that this was a story you had been a fan of for some time. Then, you and Stuart worked together a few years ago on Taste, and here you are now collaborating on this story. It almost feels like kismet in a way. Was that at all daunting for you, Ben?
Ben Rock: Oh, yeah. To me, it's like I'm trying to honor two people whose work I admire outrageously, and that's Kirk Vonnegut and Stuart Gordon, and I want to make sure that I do them both justice at the same time. Vonnegut was that artist that really, really first sunk into me, and I became obsessed with him as a writer. He's one of the writers whose work I return to over and over again. And I've known that this adaptation existed for 26 years, so yeah, it was daunting because you don't want to f--- it up. You want to make sure you get it exactly right, or you want to get it as right as you can. And, obviously, there are budget limitations and schedule limitations with the way this stuff goes together.
There was no limit to how good I wanted it to be, and I had a really specific idea. Then, you slam into reality and have to figure out what to cut and whatever, but I'd say we got as much as we possibly could up here on stage. Plus, we had an amazing cast, which is really the most important thing to get you through a show. It's been a joy and it's been the most work I've probably ever put into a play. I don’t think people realized how f---ing ambitious it was going to be when we started.
Stuart Gordon: And yeah, you do have a really, really great cast.
What's really interesting is that you mentioned that this is something that feels as relevant now as it did 40 years ago, and I do agree with that sentiment. How early did you start working on this, and had you known where things were heading politically when you started?
Ben Rock: Well, I proposed the show before Trump was elected president. I proposed it about two years ago, so at that time it was science fiction that Trump would end up winning. But it was weird once he did win and the reality of that sunk in. I think that probably a lot of people doing stuff like this start seeing these eerie parallels. We tried to latch onto some of them, but we tried to not hammer it in, either. We tried to not make it too specifically about Trump because it's not really that kind of a thing. It's more about the way we're all being manipulated more than anything.
Stuart, in your note in the play program, you mentioned how Kurt was surprised with your first adaptation of his story because you were almost too literal with your adaptation of it. Is it a challenge when you’re trying to keep in line with the spirit of the material you’re working with, but then you also have to find a way to make it into something new?
Stuart Gordon: Yeah, we were truly respectful with how we approached it. He said to me, "You've got to just make this your own." And he encouraged me to really kind of go crazy with it. I thought about him a lot when we were working on this. I didn't realize how much I missed him.
Ben Rock: And when you did the original adaptation, didn't Jerry Garcia at some point reach out to you?
Stuart Gordon: Yeah, he did. Jerry Garcia was a huge fan of this book, and he wanted to make a movie out of it. He'd heard about our production, and he had me come out to San Francisco and meet with him and talk to him about it. That was pretty hilarious. He wanted to make a movie with Bill Murray playing Malachi Constant, which would've been pretty cool.
Opening night is now over. How does that feel and what are you guys anticipating the most about the rest of the run of the show?
Stuart Gordon: I really like seeing people's reactions to this because some people are fans of the book, and so they know it well. Others have absolutely no idea what they're in for, and I kind of love that, too. So when Jesse Merlin [who plays Salo] comes bouncing out on stage, it's like, "What is happening?" We're literally on another planet, and I love that.
Ben Rock: I've been working on this for so long now, and I've been taking it so seriously, so it wasn't really until last night, as I was watching Jesse Merlin bouncing around like a tangerine with legs, and watching Tim Kopacz dressed as a giant dog, where I was like, "This is actually kind of loony." It is way out there [laughs].
But, when I read the book for the first time, it was like I was reading a more philosophical version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When I got to the end, it really nailed me. Like, literally, that last line just tears me to shreds every time. It's a weird magic trick, and it was something where I really had to trust both Vonnegut's work and Stuart's work, because it does swing from completely absurd to very poignant and back again. But as long as we treat the characters like they're real people in these absurd situations, my hope was that it would have an emotional resonance, too.
Stuart Gordon: That's the thing about Vonnegut; he can be very satirical and cynical, but he's got a lot of heart.
© 2017 Daily Dead
Rare Vonnegut Comes To Sacred Fools
Ben Rock (Blair Witch Project, Alien Raiders, Baal, Occupation, Taste) laying out his Sirens of Titan Show & Tell – script, program, tattered teen tome and set design specs – was like discovering ancient artifacts that were going to change the course of human history.
“I brought some visual aids to show you. One of them is the original script that I got from the Chicago Public Library archives. This adaptation that we’re doing, was done in 1975 by the Organic Theatre in Chicago. Stuart did the adaptation with Vonnegut back then. Stuart also gave me the original program from 1977. Look at who was in it. Dennis Franz, Joe Mantegna, and Keith Szarabajka. Keith played Stony Stevenson in the original version. He’s probably going to do the voice for us. And by the way, Caroline who played Beatrice, that’s Stuart’s wife.”
Kurt Vonnegut’s original Hugo Award-nominated novel The Sirens of Titan revolves around a Martian invasion of Earth, and addresses issues of free will, omniscience and the overall purpose of human history.
“Keith, just had amazing stories about his whole experience. When I told him we had the script, he was like, ‘We had a script? I thought we just all had a copy of the book marked up with crayons.’”
It was also a beast to cast. The search for talent who embodied each character’s specificities was, as Rock described it, “like choosing from a murderer’s row of amazing actors”.
But then, the Theater-Film-Television-Producer-Director-Writer-Production Designer, hyphenate, seems to have a penchant for the weird and remote, and a knack for bringing it to life.
Rock’s alternate-universe directing is partnered with genre master Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Taste) for Sacred Fools Theatre Company’s 2017 Mainstage season finale, to re-create the early script as a fresh (epic) theatrical experience.vonnegut sirens of titan sacred fools
You’ve been in love with Vonnegut since you’ve been a teenager. Why?
Late in adolescence, I read Slaughterhouse Five. It was one of those books that gave you permission to be who you are. It set me off on an all-you-can-eat buffet of Vonnegut. The Sirens of Titan was one of my favorites.
Vonnegut’s books always went down like a sweet, sweet milkshake. He was just funny and punk rock and throwing out traditional structure, so I thought. You have these extremely crude characters cursing and swearing and having sex and wet dreams and stuff, that eighteen-year-old me was able to relate to.
When I re-read Slaughterhouse Five recently, I realized it’s a very classically structured book. Vonnegut merely appears to play with structure. You recognize it’s all about him dealing with PTSD. It’s a terribly sad, confessional story about how the worst things that happen to you, turn you into who you are; that we’re all used in various ways without our knowledge. It’s kind of meta.
Vonnegut’s stuff is smart, spare and straightforward. It’s not flowery or wordy. He has a very specific authorial voice – terse and dry, brutally sarcastic and fun. Of course in the case of The Sirens of Titan, it’s an outrageous story. There’s a lot of wackiness and humor. He takes a crap all over everything that is sacred and couches hard truth in delicious, ironic narrative science fiction that’s full of weird aliens and robots. You’re allowed to laugh. And the laugh disarms you a bit. But then the philosophy sinks in. This appealed to the adolescent in me then and now and I saw the message as one of humanism and people exercising free will within a deterministic universe.
The sirens in ancient Greece called to sailors with beautiful songs from the island and made them wreck their ships. What Vonnegut is referencing there is that Malachi, the protagonist of the book, who is rich by birth, is promised at the beginning that he’s going to end up on Titan, the Moon of Saturn and he’s going to meet these beautiful women. He’s shown a picture that entrances him. When he gets there, however, it’s just a statue. Nothing is real. Malachi is a guy on a pathway seeking these all-important, all-consuming things. When he finds them, he realizes none of them are what they were supposed to be. And he bears a terrible responsibility for everything that’s happened along the way.
How did you discover the play even existed?
In 1991 I was living in Orlando. There was a theater there called Theatre Downtown run by Frank Hilgenberg. Frank told me he came from the Organic Theatre and had worked for Stuart Gordon as a 19-year-old horror fan. Of course, Stuart Gordon’s name meant the world to me because of Re-Animator and I couldn’t have been more excited. Shortly thereafter, Frank saw me reading a Vonnegut book and says, “Oh we did a Vonnegut adaptation of The Sirens of Titan.”
I was just starting college. I didn’t know how to track something like that down. And there was no internet. So I filed that away until four years ago when I was working on Taste with Stuart.
Stuart didn’t have a copy so that started me on a little quest. I went from archive to archive and finally landed in a specific archive at the Chicago Public Library that housed all the Organic scripts. I got permission from Stuart. But I also needed to get permission from the Vonnegut Estate.
The Vonnegut Estate has been instrumental in helping us set this up. The executor of the estate Don Farber, Kurt Vonnegut’s actual lawyer, then in his 90’s, agreed to let me get it as long as we could get a copy to them. They didn’t have one.
When I finally got the play, it didn’t feel like a full-length script but it reads like one. It’s only twenty-nine pages long. It’s top of the page to the bottom of the page, from one side to the other. It looked like a one-act. I asked Stuart why was it formatted like that.
“We were just trying to save paper.”
How are you pulling it all together?
I’m biting my nails to the quick. I’m doing everything in my power to make sure the play makes narrative sense so that the audience will stay with it. I tend to think audiences are very smart. But it’s still important to make something like this accessible.
This is a book and we’re putting on a play. They are two different animals. I keep saying to the cast too, all the answers that we need are in this book. There’s some good research in here if you’re wondering why your character does x, y or z.
Many things have to come together. We’re dealing with puppets, special costumes, projections, a moving set and difficult transitions. We’ve come up with some brilliant solutions, though. And whenever I direct a play, we have one rehearsal where it’s nothing but scene changes so that we can keep the story moving. Nothing sucks the life out of an audience like a scene change.
Stuart has done an amazing job in his revision for our production. The Sirens of Titan is distilled down to a playable theatrical story but holds onto all the heart. That’s what the audience is here for.
There are many things I can blame for my science fiction addiction, but one of the first culprits was a camp counselor who decided to read to us short stories from Kurt Vonnegut‘s excellent short story collection, “Welcome to the Monkey House“. From that point, Vonnegut rapidly became one of my favorite authors, and I devoured everything he wrote. One such book was his novel “The Sirens of Titan”, which my notes from those days say I first read in September 1976, when I would have been starting my senior year of high school. Vonnegut’s novels were unlike any other novel — at times oddly non-linear, referencing odd concepts and painting a very sardonic and cynical view of society and where mankind had been taking itself.
I haven’t picked up “The Sirens of Titan” since 1976 (when I paid $1.95 for the paperback, new). That’s a shame, for it would have been nice to have the story fresher in my mind for last night, when we saw The Sirens of Titan in an excellent production at Sacred Fools Theatre in Hollywood. Looking back at the book when I got home, the production hewed true to both the story and the tone of the book, and made me want to revisit my Vonnegut addiction after all these years. That’s a good thing, and if you don’t think so, you’re a ✴ (and if you don’t know what that symbolizes, well, you need to read your Vonnegut).
The production of The Sirens of Titan originated with Chicago’s Organic Theatre in 1977, if I have my math right. At that time, Vonnegut himself was involved in the adaptation, and encouraged the adaptation team to not be slavishly faithful to the book, but to make the story right for a play. Skimming the novel’s text afterwards, I believe they achieved the right level. I can see places where Vonnegut’s dialogue and notions were lifted straight off the page. I can also see a few things cut out. They made good choices. If you like Vonnegut, you’ll enjoy this show. It is clear that the director, Ben Rock, is a Vonnegut fan.
So what is the plot of the story? That may not be the right question, not only because it is a little hard to describe. A spaceman, Winston Niles Rumfoord, and his dog Kazak, take a spaceship to Mars but get caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, which to put it simply, means they stretch out over time, see everything, but reappear on Earth every 57 years. On one of these anniversaries, Rumfoord summons one of the richest and luckiest men in the world, Malachi Constant, to tell him his future. Basically, he’ll go to to Mars, fall in love with Rumfoord’s wife Beatrice, have a son, Chronos, then go to Mercury, then back to Earth, and then to Titan, where he will fall in love. The rest of the play is watching that all played out from the eyes of our confused protagonist Malachi Constant. We meet his friends on Mars, such as Boaz, as well as the alien Salo that lives on Titan. You can find the summary of the book’s plot on Wikipedia.
Perhaps a better question is: What is the point of the story? In some ways, it is a commentary on religion — after all, the story posits the creation of a church of God the Indifferent, and the play opens with a commentary about fake religious leaders. I tend to think there is a deeper meaning about the purpose of life overall, and Vonnegut’s cynical take on it. This is captured in a line from the book spoken by a character near the end: “The worst thing that could possibly happen to anybody would be to not be used for anything by anybody.” Vonnegut is very big on character relationships, both meaningful and meaningless. To Vonnegut, a meaningless interaction — an interaction devoid of deeper purpose — is still better than to be ignored. The same saying was captured many years later in the musical Rent, when it noted that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it is indifference.
One of the hallmarks of Sacred Fools is its inventiveness, which we saw a few years ago in their old space with the delightful Astro Boy. Ben Rock has continued that inventiveness with a creative and playful staging. He has worked with his actors to bring out that playfulness and creativity as well, making the production a joy to watch even as you puzzle over the deeper meaning and significance.
In the lead positions are Eric Curtis Johnson as Winston Niles Rumfoord, Pete Caslavka as Malachi Constant, and Jaime Andrews as Beatrice Rumfoord. Johnson’s portrayal of Rumfoord is a mixture of bemusement and resignation to his fate, which comes across quite well. He seemed to be having a great time with the role, and that (as always) came across well. He performance was also a consistent characterization across the entire story. That’s less so for the other main characters, who start out with one personality, and end up with a completely different persona. Martian brainwashing and all that. Caslavka’s portrayal of Malachi captures this well, starting out as an overly self-important prick (think Elon Musk, and add it a little Steve Jobs), and then transforming into more of the everyman that life is dragging from place to place, often not telling us why. Similarly, Andrews’ performance of Beatrice captures that character’s transformation well: this time from a stuck-up society wife seemingly indifferent, to more of an adaptable badass, to again someone who has been swept along, accepting her fate. A minor distracting note for Caslavka’s portrayal: there are times where the costuming reveals perhaps something that isn’t appropriate to reveal (or at least an unnecessary distriction), especially in the yellow jumpsuit. Luckily, that’s easily correctable.
The remaining performers constitute the ensemble, while also playing named characters. There are four I would like to single out. First, Jax Ball as Young Chrono is irresistibly cute, and reminded me of the lead from Astro Boy even though she wasn’t with SFT at the time. She was just having fun with the role, and it was great to see. It is always fun to see Jesse Merlin on stage — going back to the days many many years ago when we saw him in The Beastly Bombing and he was still regularly on LiveJournal. Here, his take on the alien Salo is playful and inventive and just a joy to watch (Merlin also gave me the most astonishment on this writeup, as I can’t figure out how we have the FB friends we have in common in common). Tim Kopacz was notable for a role in which he isn’t seen: inside the wonderful Kazak the dog, who is incredibly dog-like in his movement and behavior it is remarkable. Oh, he makes a great Stony Stevenson as well. Lastly, K. J. Middlebrooks as Boaz, Malachi (then called “Unk”)’s friend. I was unsure about him on his Mars scenes, but he came into his own on Mercury, especially in the scene that opened Act II. Tifanie McQueen was billed as Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble, but I didn’t recognize the character until I saw her FB photo: she was great explaining the Harmonium. Rounding out the ensemble were Dennis Neal as Redwine + Ensemble, Keith Szarabajka as the voice, and Emily Kosloski as the voice of the sirens.
Understudies were: Curt Bonnem (u/s Malachi Constant); Libby Baker (u/s Beatrice Rumfoord); Paul Plunkett (u/s Winston Niles Rumfoord); Adriana Colón (u/s Young Chrono + Ensemble); Gabriel Croom (u/s Boaz / Kazak / Stony Stevenson / Ensemble); Corey Klemow (u/s Salo + Ensemble); Brendan Broms (u/s Redwine); and Missy Mannila (u/s Mrs. Peterson + Ensemble).
As I said upfront, the creative team behind this production was remarkable. From the extremely clever set design to the remarkable sound effects to the great projections to the wonderful lighting effects to the costumes and makeup — all came together to create a wonderfully creative and cohesive whole.
--Daniel P. Faigin
© 2017 Observations Along the Road