The Sirens of Titan
Reviewed by Terry Morgan
Sacred Fools Theater Company
Through May 6th
One of the great themes in the writing of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is the lack of free will in characters who don’t know they’re being used. Moreover, should these characters find out they’re being manipulated, they certainly don’t know why or how to stop it. In this “post fact” era, when it’s accepted that our president lies to us every day, the new Sacred Fools production of Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan seems very timely.
On a flight to Mars, astronaut Winston Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) and his dog are caught in a chrono-synclastic infundibulum, a time-space warp that sends them back to Earth for short periods every two months. Malachi Constant (Pete Caslavka), one of the world’s richest men, is surprised when Rumfoord tells him that, in the future, he will mate with Rumfoord’s wife, Beatrice (Jaime Andrews), and end up on Saturn’s moon Titan. Constant, of course, believes none of this, and thus is surprised when his life begins to veer completely out of his control.
Johnson is superb as Rumfoord, peeling away layers of the character as the play proceeds and metamorphosing from a seeming straightforward pleasantness to an underlying tyranny to a final angry realization that he may be the most helpless and manipulated individual of all. Caslavka creates a great deal of sympathy for the initially arrogant Constant as the character endures every heartbreaking thing the universe throws at him. Andrews’ role of Beatrice seems less three-dimensional; she generally just comes off as angry, but this may be more the fault of the adaptation than the performer. K. J. Middlebrooks, Jesse Merlin and Dennis Neal are all terrific in multiple roles.
Director Ben Rock keeps the heavy-duty plot moving along smoothly, and doesn’t let the sci-fi trimmings overshadow Vonnegut’s mood of sadly bemused tragedy. Stuart Gordon’s adaptation is faithful to the novel yet still works as theatre, which is always an impressive accomplishment. The show benefits from Matt Richter and Adam Earle’s moody lighting, while Jaime Robledo’s sound design immerses the audience in a 1950’s era science-fiction vibe. Russ Walko’s creature designs, which range from an adorable huge dog to a fantastical three-limbed spherical alien, add tremendously to the production.
The Sirens of Titan is an accomplished and ultimately moving play, and this production is well worth seeing. And if its main messages are somewhat despairing, its author does serve up an antidote, via the hapless Constant: “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.”
Sacred Fools Theater, 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles; Fri.- Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 4/23 and 4/30 Sun. 7 p.m. through May 6. www.sacredfools.org. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.