BWW Reviews: Gripping SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE from Book-It Rep
How do you come out with an anti-war novel without it becoming preachy or scolding? You let Kurt Vonnegut handle it. His tale of the life of a soldier through his time in war and beyond is so shrouded in other elements that the lessons learned just slide on into your brain along with the rest of the story. And Book-It's presentation of this gripping work is just as seemingly effortless in its message and manages to engage and entertain rather than lecture and scold.
In case you never had to read Vonnegut's novel in school, we follow Billy Pilgrim (played in three different stages of his life by Robert Bergin, Erik Gratton and Todd Jefferson Moore) through the trials of his life. From his time in World War II and most notably his presence at the bombing of Dresden, into his later adulthood as he becomes a well off optometrist until he is kidnapped by aliens and put on display in their alien zoo, into his later years as he tries to come to grips with all he has seen and done over the years and as he comes to terms with his inevitable demise which he has known about for years.
It's a thrilling tale as we bounce back and forth in Billy's timeline (as does he) to see how all the pieces of his life and eventual death fit together. But what Book-It and adapter and director Josh Aaseng have done is to make Vonnegut a central character in the piece along with the three phases of Billy making the narration of this world feel as natural and effortless as Vonnegut's message. And when coupled with some haunting and sometimes harsh lighting from Kent Cubbage, and the bleakness of Catherine Cornell's set design, the audience is completely immersed in this world that is both chaotic and yet utterly simple.
The ensemble cast is stunning as they weave through multiple characters and infusing even the most repugnant of people with sympathy. As the three Billy's, Bergin, Gratton and Moore each manage to take on a different element of his straight forward outlook on life as they build upon each other's performances. Bergin's innocence leads beautifully into Gratton's resignation to how life is which only feeds Moore's commitment to the crazy things he is insisting upon. And Jim Gall as Vonnegut ties it all together wonderfully as a character inside the world yet not central to it. The rest of the ensemble each manage to stay completely committed to the world and to each other as they convey this story. And I have to mention some outstanding moments from Benjamin McFadden and Joshua Ryder as a couple of very angry soldiers with some very dark outlooks on life and Eleanor Moseley who tackles each of her supporting characters with strength but none more than her brief yet powerful moments as Vonnegut's war buddy's staunchly anti-war wife.
The show is nothing short of a triumph, not only of a solid adaptation of the novel but a truly riveting piece of theater. And so with my three letter rating system I give it a Tralfamadorian wave (which translates to a YAY). And so it goes.
"Slaughterhouse-Five" from Book-It Repertory Theatre performs at the Center Theatre at the Armory through July 3rd. For tickets or information contact the Book-It box office at 206-216-0833 or visit them online at www.book-it.org.