Tuesday, November 12, 2013

SpeakEasy Stage Company Offers Up a World Premiere - Kurt Vonnegut's "Make Up Your Mind"

Barlow Adamson and Tracy Goss
in a scene from the
SpeakEasy Stage Company
World Premiere production
Photo by 
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

When he died unexpectedly from the result of a fall in 2007, acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut left behind an unfinished play that he had hoped to see performed.  The problem was that he left eleven different versions of "Make Up Your Mind."  Clearly, he himself had a problem making up his mind!  So, the unfinished play languished in its inchoate form until Nicky Silver came along to make order out of chaos.   He created a workable script that incorporate the best of the eleven versions with the addition of some quotations from Vonnegut's other writings.  One choice that Silver made was to insert Vonnegut himself as a character in the play - as sort of a sardonic and irascible one man Greek Chorus commenting on the action and the characters.

Boston's SpeakEasy Stage Company, which exists to present Boston premieres of worthy plays, learned of the project and arranged to stage the first full blown production of the play at its home at the Boston Center for the Arts.  The finished product is fascinating and well worth checking out.  Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, the play uses a set that has been designed by Eric Levenson using a black and white palette and some doodles from the marginalia of Vonnegut's notebooks.  The black and white motif persists until the final scene that shows Central Park in the full spectrum of summer colors.  In my interpretation, the choice of blasck and white is a very Vonnegutian ironic choice.  If the world were truly only black and white, their our choices would be binary, and characters in the p lay would not have such a hard time making up their minds.

The play is a pastiche of a variety of styles - theater of the absurd, social commentary, slapstick and other physical comedy.  The themes that Vonnegut explores are protean: the nature of love, father and son complications, the role of women in a male-dominated society, the nature of pornography, con artists and their victims.  One theme that keeps appearing because the line is repeated more than once is this: "Loneliness is the cancer that is killing us."

The cast of four veteran actors have been well chosen.

Barlow Adamson is Roland Stackhouse, a self-proclaimed "Decision Therapist" who uses as "enforcer" to hold client accountable for the decision they have committed to make.  Adamson is perfect in walking the find line between smarmy and pitiable as this conflicted character who has unresolved father issues.

Ross Bicknell is the father, George Stackhouse, a marriage therapist with an office down the hall from his son.  George sees Roland as a failure, and constantly berates him - often in front of clients.

Tracy Goss is Karen Finch, a client of Roland who is precariously married to the richest man in NYC. She and Roland become entangled and inadvertently are featured in a porn film  that becomes a blockbuster. She is portrayed convincingly both as a victim and as a clever survivor.

Richard Snee plays the dual roles of Ottis Fletcher, another of Roland's clients as well as the cameo role of Kurt Vonnegut.

The interactions among these four actors are seamless and believable within the absurd context of Vonnegut's world.

The play is not perfect, but I found it to be both entertaining and thought provoking.

It runs through November 30.



Written by Kurt Vonnegut
Assembled by Nicky Silver
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker
Run time: Approx. 90 minutes with no intermission
There will be cigarettes smoked during the performance.
Roland Stackhouse thinks our greatest obstacle is indecisiveness-and he has the answer! Make Up Your Mind, Inc. But just as business takes off, romance rears its head, and Stackhouse finds himself in a world of wealthy coquettes, paid enforcers, blue movies, and confused clergy. It's a world only Kurt Vonnegut could imagine! Alternately hilarious and touching, Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind is really about more than sticking to decisions'-it's about that rarest of all commodities, human connection.

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