By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
At a preview, spectators didn't hesitate to join the celebration. Couples jammed the floor for "YMCA" and "Hava Nagila" and some even waved cash at the "newlyweds" during the tacky "dollar dance." Only the actors participated in the brawl between Tony and Michael, however, so no civilians were harmed in the making of the melee.
Nobody makes anybody play along with Tony 'n' Tina's ill-mannered Nunzio/Vitale families. Guests are free to leave when they want. But just like at most weddings, as long as the music's playing, the champagne's flowing and there's still cake on the table, only teetotalers and killjoys go home early.
Risk Theater Initiative's Slaughterhouse Five may not be the best play in town, but it's certainly the loudest. Adapted by Eric Simonson from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five; or, The Children's Crusade, A Duty-Dance With Death, the 90-minute drama drops bombs, shoots guns and blasts the ear canals with all manner of thunderous effects.
Requiring three actors to play main character Billy Pilgrim only adds to the confusion. Taubert Nadalini is the boy Billy; Brad Davidson is young adult Billy, traumatized as an American POW held in a meat locker during the firebombing of Dresden; and Chad Gowen Spear plays older Billy, the one "unstuck in time," kidnapped by aliens and turned into a zoo exhibit on the planet Tralfamadore.
Vonnegut's nonlinear, fantastical storytelling loses something condensed into a noisy one-act, even with the help of an authorial narrator sitting spitting-distance from the audience. The play jump-cuts constantly. Child Billy is mistreated by his father. Young man Billy suffers the abuse of Nazi captors, sees flashbacks from his hospital bed and then, as middle-aged Billy, invents interplanetary travel rather than deal with his awful memories of war.
And when those bombs hit Dresden, sound designer Heather Gage fills the theater with deafening rumbles and bone-shaking ka-BOOMS jacked to 11 on the Spinal Tap scale.
Having the ensemble's 16 actors play multiple roles muddles things further. Swallowed up amid costume changes and incessant sound-quakes is Vonnegut's fatalistic fable of a man losing his grip on reality. Playwright Simonson's version turns Slaughterhouse into a patchwork of blurted dialogue and overlapping Billys. And where the production could enfold the viewer in a thrilling rush of words, sound and action, Risk director Marianne Williamson instead pushes the audience away. There's no one onstage worth feeling for, nothing to engage the emotional gears. With everything happening at once, it is safer to sit back at a safe remove—and plug the ears in self-defense.
To borrow a word invented by Vonnegut, Risk's production is a classic granfalloon.