by: JK Clarke
It’s rarely a good idea to adapt a widely celebrated novel to another medium. Case in point, Baz Luhrman’s recent butchering of The Great Gatsby. While those unfamiliar may be entertained, fans of the source material are rarely satisfied. With that in mind, it is particularly hard to imagine that a theatrical interpretation of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 masterpiece of war and convoluted time travel, Slaughterhouse Five, could possibly be pulled off. But, lo and behold at this year’s Fringe Festival, True False Theatre manages to do so rather smoothly.
Slaughterhouse Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim (adeptly played by Jamie Effros), erstwhile sad sack World War II soldier in Dresden, optician, alien zoo display centerpiece and disoriented husband unhinged in time. He is, as he has learned from the Trafalmadorians who have kidnapped him and taken him to their planet for observation, none of these things linearly. Rather, he is all of these things at any given moment and with a warping shiver of his body he transitions between them all. From hospitalized veteran he transports to the bed of porn star Montana Wildhack (the vivacious Anni Weisband) where they are to perform acts of human lovemaking for the oohing and ahhing of the extraterrestrials. Christopher Travlos as Eliot Rosewater (he also plays Edgar Derby), adds comic dimension to the already absurd proceedings.
Billy Pilgrim shuttles between timing and setting with a sudden shudder and without notice, and Zachary Sitrin and Liz Nelson’s set design of two-sided (and multi purposed) cut-outs of abstract, oddly shaped images serve effectively to change scenes.
Writer Daria Tavana and Director Jenny Beth Snyder do a very effective job of transitioning this complex and sometimes troubling story to an equally impressive stage presentation without losing the heart and soul of the original. No easy feat and a commendable one at that.
Slaughterhouse Five. As part of Fringe Festival, through August 20 at Fringe Venue #5, Celebration of Whimsy (C.O.W.) Theater, 21 Clinton Street (between Houston and Stanton Streets). www.FringeNYC.org