“Slaughterhouse-Five” at Book-It

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Erik Gratton, Todd Jefferson Moore and Robert Bergin. photo by John Ulman

As our country once again must decide how many troops it’s going to send to the Middle East, how very appropriate for Book-It to mount a stage adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s seminal antiwar novel, “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And how marvelous that this production is so good! Adapted and directed by Josh Aaseng, it captures the novel’s black humor as well as its horror, and it raises all the difficult questions. What actions in war are justifiable? What is the cost—for the living as well as the dead? And perhaps most of all—why?

Vonnegut was in a prisoner of war camp in Dresden in WW II when the allies bombed the city to oblivion killing tens of thousands of civilians. His central character, Billy Pilgrim, was also in Dresden during that horrific night, but, in Vonnegut’s book and this play, because Billy has become unstuck in time, we also meet him at home in New York, and on the alien planet of Tralfalmadore. Book-It cleverly presents him in these different places, at different life periods in the form of three accomplished actors: Robert Bergin, Erik Gratton, and Todd Jefferson Moore.

The work of Kent Cubbage, Lighting Director, and Matt Starritt, Sound Director, deserve special praise. Any good play that includes war scenes requires some truly dramatic effects, and you get them here. You also get creative scenic design (Catherine Cornell) as the action shifts backwards and forward in time and place, and you watch Billy move back and forth between youth and old age.

As Billy understands and tries to make clear to us, even the Great War waged against the greatest evil by the greatest generation has moral ambiguity. It’s all captured here in a riveting production where tragedy is wrapped in humor, and Billy Pilgrim, who survives the war, becomes an optometrist, doing what he can to open our eyes. “And so it goes!”

You’ll do well to go see this production. (Be aware that the production includes nudity.)

Through July 3, The Center Theatre at the Armory, Seattle Center, Seattle, (206 216-0833 or www.Book-It.org)

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