Monday, April 17, 2017

The Sirens of Titan adapted by Stuart Gordon from the Novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Pete Caslavka - photos by Jessica Sherman

By Joe Straw

This show needed some wry – sandwiched between the white loaves of irony – and with just a dash of didactic time. – Narrator

He couldn’t help but want to go to Titan after seeing three of the most voluptuous ladies that would cater to his every need.  Yes, I said, every need.  

The question, for him (and for me), is how will he get there?  

When he stares at the photo he is encumbered by other thoughts and disregards the technical concerns of how.  The how is almost forgotten as he envelops their colors: white, gold, and brown.  Captured by their seductive smiles, and the perfect way their form calls.   

One can immediately sense that a particular insanity drives this being, standing there and salivating for want. In some circles, and some cultures this is a natural process of procurement.  Yes, before electronics, salivating for need was indeed a national pastime. The how, for this man, and for one brief moment is on the mental backburner.

But, why wouldn’t anyone want to go there? A little secret here: Titan is not for the peons, the uneducated, and the unduly crusted earth wanderers of this god-forsaken planet. And maybe this is all just a fanfaronade but the question isn’t “Why?” it is “Why not?” 

So, when you go to Titan, a moon of Saturn, go prepared, and take your “A” game.  No artificial stimulus required or needed.  

Sacred Fools Theater Company presents The Sirens of Titan adapted by Stuart Gordon from the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., directed by Ben Rock and produced by Shaela Cook through May 6th, 2017 at 1076 Lillian Way in Los Angeles, CA 90038.

There is a lot to enjoy from Sacred Fools Theater Company and especially this troupe of thespians that manage a lot of frivolity in this fun filled night. The acting is superb and conveys the message that Vonnegut, Jr. may have had in mind. 

In space, things can change in a heartbeat, and so it was with wealthy New Englander Winston Niles Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) and his dog Kazak (Tim Kopacz). 

It must be said that Winston left all personal things to the wayside to have a spaceship constructed on his property.  Taking a man’s best friend, Kazak, with him was a personal option, and a message to his wife, as they blasted off into space.  The two of them shook, like the escaping images of a fifties movie, a mashed potato face, fighting the groans of speed and gravity mixed with the escape velocity, and all in the effort to reach zero solemnity.

But something goes predicatively wrong in reaching their destination, Mars.  Their rocket ship plows into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum and now they have lost touch with reality, and most importantly with ground control.  Their lives are now further complicated because they are pulsating drips that travel between the sun and Betelgeuse. Not all that complicated when you think about pulsations.  It means that Winston and Kazak will come back to earth intact every 59 days, back home to his neglected and virtuous wife, before disappearing back into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum once again.  

Eric Curtis Johnson

One of the advantages of moving back and forth in space is that Winston Niles Rumfoord can now predict, no, see the future. He is able to rattle of a series of truths, a hypozeuxis of thoughts, and mind readings, if he chooses to do so.  And that’s why everyone is trying to get a piece of Winston Niles Rumfoord.

But, Rumfoord has an ulterior motive, one that necessitates a coverup, by offering a wry sense of humor, and coyness about his actions.  

His wife, Beatrice Rumford (Jaime Andrews), doesn’t think much of those attributes. She doesn’t think much of him or his dog either and thinks less of him now that he is just a 59-day phenomenon. In her eyes, he is a rebarbative figure.

But let’s get to the now. Winston is here today to speak with the ultra rich, ultra boastful, “Somebody up there likes me” Malachi Constant ((Pete Caslasvka) dismissing all the reporters in the process. 

Winston, a predictor of the future, says that Malachi Constant will marry his wife, they will live on Mars, and they will have a child, his name will be Chronos. Chronos will find and carry a tool that is very important. Winston tells Constant that his final destination is on Titan.

“Why would I go there?” – Constant

“The climate, women.” – Winston

Winston hands him a picture of the women of Titan and Constant falls into the seat in love.   

Also, Winston says his wife is still a virgin.

Constant is not curious on that matter.  He can have any woman on the face of the earth, why would he want someone's wife?  Still, he’s inquisitive, how this will all happen. So he meets with Beatrice, to get an idea, a spark of how the future will play out.  Their brief meeting is tenuous at best, fraught with conflict, and without a meeting of the mind.  

Malachi Constant goes about his carefree life unaware of troublous times. He lies partially unclothed, next to a young maiden (Jax Ball), after a night of partying when Ransom K. Fern (Dennis Neal) informs him that his cigarette company has manufactured a product, MoonMist Tobacco, that causes sterility in men and therefore Constant has lost everything. 

Broke, Constant hops on a spaceship to join the Martian Army, Beatrice joins him and suddenly everyone forgets everything, a formula induced to all who pledges allegiance to an alien power (a metal plate attached to the head).

Now, 11 years later, they are all under the power of Boaz (K. J. Middlebrooks), a nicely dressed military man with no discernible rank, who by pressing a remote causes excruciating pain to those who get in his way.  

L - R K.J. Middlebrooks and Pete Caslavka

Constant, whose brain has been cleaned out by the Martian Army, goes by the name Unk now.  But that brain-wiping thing does not work that well, and especially with Unk whom has a tape recorder hidden with all of his notes, refreshing his memory that says he has a wife and kid.

There is a lot going on in this production.  I went on opening night and actors are still settling into their roles.  Still there is a lot to enjoy, and enough fantasy to lift you to that special place, into the chrono-synclastic infundibulum, that only theatre can do and do well.

If you have read the book, you’ll be able to follow the play.  But if you have not read the book, you might have some problems, albeit minor ones that I will address later.  

Still, there are a lot of wonderful things in this production. The video animation of the Mars attack by Kays Alatrakchi and the character Salo by puppet/creature designer Russ Walko, make it a wonderful evening of theatre. Jennifer Christina DeRosa also does a wonderful job as the Costume Designer.

Okay, so what are the notes?  Ben Rock, the director, requires a stronger through line. In the way that Dorothy finds her way home in the Wizard of Oz, so it must be that Malachi Constant must find what he is looking for.  And, in search of what? A suggestion might be the Sirens of Titan. The desired objective is to find a way home, wherever home may be.  In the book, it is Indianapolis, Indiana. I wasn’t so sure what it was in the play. That also holds true for the other places that Constant travels to: Earth, Mars, Mercury, all with Titan and the beautiful women in mind.  The objective to find the place is important for the actor to keep in mind.

Another thing.  There were times where the audience (me) lost sight of the locations, where the characters were, be it Mars, Mercury, Massachusetts, California, because Constant was all over the place.  The doors placed on the upstage walls were not enough to suggest another place, another planet.

Also, the crowd scenes are extremely important in his play.  It gives us a sense of being swept up in the fervor whether it is social (the reporters) or the religious (parishioners). Those scenes did not work to full effect. The reporters were dismissed with a wisp and the parishioners did not grasp the significance of the space traveler.

Pete Caslavka appears in a yellow suit with a question mark on it as Malachi Constant, a man of greed and avarice, a space traveler, and suddenly, unless you’ve read the book, the suit makes little sense.  The suit is made for him.  He is the chosen one.  It will only fit one.  We see little of the reasoning of what significance the suit plays, with the church, and beyond that. Perhaps the Rev. Redwine and church should dress him, there on stage.  That aside, Caslavka does some really fine work on stage playing the billionaire who cares for little except his own self-gratification, like someone in office right now.   

Jaime Andrews is Beatrice Rumfoord and has a solid presence on stage.  It is difficult to determine what Beatrice wants both in the play and in the book but whatever Andrews choice was, it was someone who had a strong moral code, and un-withering backbone that stood for the principle within her. The work was excellent Andrews has an authoritative presence and manages to hold her own.

Eric Curtis Johnson was Winston Niles Rumfoord, a man with an ulterior motive, and a man who knows everything, with an almost God-like religious fervor.  He has a reason for doing what he is doing.   Rumfoord’s movement is in line with his direction, his force, whether it is economic reasons or religious reasons one is not quite sure.  

Jax Ball does some fine work in the ensemble and as Young Chrono.

K. J. Middlebrooks has a very distinctive look, a calm and natural presence on stage as Boaz.  Certainly there’s more to be had with his relationship to the harmonium creatures on Mercury, the relationship with his partner, and his music, which is his reason for wanting to stay on Mercury.

Jesse Merlin plays a number or characters in the show and does extraordinary work.  His role as Salo, a tangerine looking robot with three arms protruding every which way, was the highlight. But Salo should also tie into all of the other characters on earth in some likeness or mannerism to show there is a connection. Salo is another character that has been diligently watching everyone. Merlin is an actor who appears everywhere on stage in Los Angeles.  The work is always impressive, and his craft is inspiring.

Dennis Neal

Dennis Neal is notable as The Reverend C. Horner Redwine the minister of the Church of God the Utterly Indifferent and other roles. This is a character that should embody exuberance when he discovers the space wanderer, in the way he finds him, and in the way he controls his flock.  

Tiffanie McQueen

Tifanie McQueen was Mrs. Peterson, a woman who appeared to be a lecturer, or schoolmarm who describes the Martian attack in detail.  I missed that she was a character from Boca Raton who killed four Martians with her son’s .22-caliber rifle. McQueen shows a tremendous amount of poise on stage, and she has a wonderful voice.  

Tim Kopacz is wonderful as Kazak, the dog.  Kazak doesn’t say much but gets his point across. Also Kopacz plays Stony Stevenson, a mysterious man who dies under mysterious circumstances (somebody kills him), and then is used as a tool to control another.

Stuart Gordon manages to capture the flavor of Vonnegut, Jr.’s, work, a lot of words and dialogue in the play are pulled directly from the book.  But the book goes into enormous detail that is lost in the adaptation from book to play.  But when the translation from book to play hits the right notes, it is a very beautiful thing. And so, this is a work of art that demands to be seen, and at any cost.

The understudies in the show are as follows:  Curt Bonnem, Libby Baker, Paul Plunkett, Adriana Colón, Gabriel Croom, Corey Klemow, Brendan Broms and Missy Mannila. They did not perform the night I was there, but will perform later in the run.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Bo Powell – Associate Producer
Scott Golden – Assistant Director
Maggie Marx – Stage Manager
Alicia Conway Rock – Dramaturge
Krystyna Loboda – Scenic Designer
Hillary Bauman – Key Scenic
Matt Richter & Adam Earle – Lighting Designers
Ruth Silveira – Assistant Costume Designer
Hat & Suitcase – Projection Designer
Jaime Robledo - Sound Designer
Lisa Anne Nicolai – Prop Designer
Emily Donn – Assistant Prop Designer
Michael Teoli – Score Composer
Angela Santori Merritt – Hair and Make-up Artist
Cj Merriman – Choreographer
Chairman Barnes – Military Advisor
Bob DeRosa – Marketing Associate Producer
Brian Wallis – Projection Tech
Nathan Shoop – Lead Builder
Tor Brown & Joshua Benton – Builders
Marian Gonzalez, RebeccaSchoeriberg, Maggie Marx and Anthony Backman – Electricians
TJ O/Bien, Alyson Schultz & Joshua Benton – Assistant Stage Managers
Annette Fasone – Casting Coordinator
Jessica Sherman Photography – Performance Photography
Gabe Leonard – Poster Art
Jack Townsend – Title Text

Run! Run!  And take someone who loves Vonnegut, Jr., not senior, Jr!

Sacred Fools Theater Company
1076 Lillian Way
Los Angeles, CA  90038

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