Saturday, January 21, 2012

Inside Slaughterhouse-Five

I’m very excited by the work that Curio has done this season. In the Fringe, the company produced Lord of the Flies in Clark Park, the bravest and best outdoor theatre I’ve ever seen. Then came the hauntingly beautiful Eurydice, and Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which made me laugh and get fired up about today’s politics at the same time. I am very honored to be a part of Curio’s upcoming production of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, adapted by Eric Simonson and directed by Jared Reed. This will be the Philadelphia premiere of the play, which originated at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company. In that original production, 25 actors played nearly 50 characters. When the play was produced in New York, the cast size was reduced to 10 actors. Curio Theatre Company is performing Slaughterhouse-Five with 7 actors (Steve Carpenter, Josh Hitchens, Paul Kuhn, Ken Opdenaker, Jerry Rudasill, Jennifer Summerfield (who plays all of the female roles), and Ryan Walter.

It seems very appropriate that Curio is producing Slaughterhouse-Five. It’s one of the few theatre companies in Philadelphia that maintains a permanent company of actors, directors, designers, and crew. Many people have been with Curio for years, working together on stage or watching from the audience. We get to know each other’s work, we grow together. When we started rehearsing Slaughterhouse-Five, we started putting the play together almost immediately, and these past few weeks have gone by so quickly. The main part of the scenic design consists of a raked platform, 6 sections of which can split apart and move in different configurations. The show moves constantly back and forth in time, from place to place, and this set allows us to make those transitions easily. I can’t wait to see what the lights, costumes, and sound add to the world of the play, and I’m dying for the platform and backdrop to be painted. When I saw the renderings for the set, my jaw literally dropped. It going to be awesome. And wait till you see how we’re doing the aliens from Tralfamadore . . .

I have to admit that I had never read any of Kurt Vonnegut’s work before being cast in Slaughterhouse-Five. I enjoyed the novel very much, and I like that it’s subtitled The Children’s Crusade or A Duty Dance with Death. There’s a science fiction aspect to the work, it also has times when it’s extremely funny, and many moments that are deeply moving. When I read the play after reading the book, I was struck by how incredibly faithful Eric Simonson’s adaptation is to Vonnegut’s original work. I think fans of Slaughterhouse-Five will be very happy with Curio’s production of the play.

In rehearsal, there is one piece of dialogue that always strikes me:

“There is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everyone is supposed to be dead and never say anything or want anything ever again.”

Kurt Vonnegut really was a prisoner of war in Slaughterhouse #5 in the city of Dresden, and he survived the firebombing that annihilated the city in World War II. Even though "people aren't supposed to look back," he had something he wanted to say about it. And that's what Slaughterhouse-Five is.

One week until we tech. So it goes.

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