Thursday, February 28, 2008

Cat's Cradle

Photo/Edward Einhorn

Just as making a cat's cradle is deceptively deeper than it looks, so it goes with adapting Kurt Vonnegut's less-than-sunny novel, Cat's Cradle. Edward Einhorn takes a pretty good crack at it, but his condensations of plot come at the expense of the characters, and his definitions of Bokononism's terms come across as anti-foma, that is, truth that hurts the narrative of the play. Worse still, while the calypso lyrics are mostly ripped from the pages, they're roughly delivered by a chorus of musicians who, quite frankly, aren't very good. And worst of all, the direction often forces the play -- most particularly the explanation of ice-9, a central conceit -- to compete with the music: to accurately quote a Bokononist, it's all busy, busy, busy.

A rowdy, loose atmosphere is perhaps not the best way to approach an adaptation of the already meandering Vonnegut's satirical work, but all that chaos does produce some nice effects. The hero, John (Timothy McCown Reynolds), is a solid block of rationality, and when he's in focus -- talking to the naive American capitalists, Hazel and H Lowe Crosby (Sandy York and Michael Bertolini) or dealing with the well-traveled and calm US Ambassador Minton and wife, Claire (John Blaylock and Jenny McClintock) -- the show is delightfully tongue-in-cheek. And both Darius Stone (as Papa Monzano, a dictator so jovial that death by 'the hook' seems pleasant) and Jerome Brooks (as a happily ignorant bellhop) are successfully kooky. But this revolving cast of characters on John's tour as a reporter also include Dr. Breed (a generic Daryl Brown), Philip Castle (a very insecure and insincere Martin J. Mitchell), and Newton Hoenniker (a sleepy Sean Allison), and that's when the sloppiness shows. The problem isn't just with the actors -- Horace V. Rogers, who plays a Cheshire-like Bokonon, has a beautiful bass voice -- but that these personalities clash so severely: though most of them wear the same cultish white-cotton outfits (they don tops or bottoms to play other roles), the whole play is dissonant, which makes the black-lit climax rather mundane, i.e., more of the same.

The one wholly original device is the playful model set designed by Evolve Company (Tanya Khordoc and Barry Weil), a much needed bit of color and life among the drab curtains and plain costumes. It's also totally in sync with the text -- Mr. Weil, who spends most of the play manipulating a miniature camera along tiny streets, doubles as the elusive Frank Hoenniker, an excitable man-child who enjoys models. The crisp, clean translation of this stylistic element is what's so missing in the music -- Henry Akona's compositions, which should, given the anthem, be "Nice, Nice, Very Nice," are rough, rough, very rough.

Mr. Einhorn is on to something with his adaptation of Cat's Cradle, but at close to three hours, he needs to distill it to a greater extent, to rearrange those molecules from simply being a play (one filled with silly and superfluous scenes in graveyards or with sugar mill owners) into the sort of play-nine that forever alters the audience with the simple seeding power of a thought. If science is magic that works, then it's time for this company to look toward science, for the random hocus-pocus they've got right now isn't working.

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