Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Written by Kurt Vonnegut
Assembled by Nicky Silver
Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker
Oct. 30 – Nov. 30, 2013
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
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Review by Kitty Drexel
(Boston) Make Up Your Mind was assembled by Nicky Silver from 11 drafts of an unfinished play written by Kurt Vonnegut. To repeat: this is a play by Kurt Vonnegut and edited by Nicky Silver. It was not thought up and written by Silver. To hear the complaints made about this show, one would think that it was written by meth addled donkeys. If there is fault (and there is), then the fault lies with Vonnegut who didn’t even get to finish the darn thing before his tragic death in 2007. Rather than dwell on the negative, let’s focus on the fact that we get one more nugget of gold from our dearly departed author.
Roland Stackhouse (Barlow Adamson) is a mess. His marriage is failing, his Dad (Ross Bickell) can’t keep his nose out of Roland’s personal business and Roland’s professional business, Make Up Your Mind, Inc., is not faring well. There is no hope until billionaire Karen Finch (Tracy Goss) employs his services. Karen is chronically indecisive and requires the techniques of Stackhouse’s therapy to learn how to dress, eat and love. Roland teaches her all three and, on the way, they, and everyone else they work with, sacrifice the comforts of stability. Amidst all the fuss, Vonnegut (Richard Snee) appears as the Narrator.
Attempting to view this show without the correct mindset could be dangerous to the mental health of the viewer. The cast does a great job with what it’s given and work well together to create their characters. The actors’ successes are due to their commitment to the material but that isn’t enough to make the production memorable. Their characters are real-enough people but, like some people, they can’t hold an audience’s attention.
The shining star of the evening is Goss. She portrays Karen Finch with the same panache Joan Rivers employs to play herself. It is truly refreshing to see a sexually ripe woman in her golden years who isn’t the butt of cheap jokes. Karen Finch gets to be equally as hungry for love as Roland and doesn’t have to suffer for it! With the way men and women in their twilight years are portrayed in the media, you’d think it was this generation who only recently invented sex.
This play is a parody of the life/experiences of Vonnegut. It follows in the tradition he made of writing semi-autobiographical works (Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, etc.). It should not be misconstrued as paying homage to the works of Vonnegut. That direction leads to disappointment. For example, the life events of the main character, Roland Stackhouse, run parallel to some life events of Vonnegut: Roland used to work for the phone company; Vonnegut worked for General Electric. Roland runs a failing business; Vonnegut ran a Saab dealership into the ground. Roland lives with Karen Finch as his flailing marriage crumbles apart; Vonnegut lived with his second wife, Jill Krementz, before divorcing his first wife Jane Marie Cox. The unrealistic drama of it all capitulates this work into a fictional realm similar to actual reality but without the scientific element that would make it truly Vonnegut-esque.
To beat a dead horse: the script has problems. Vonnegut fans will be drawn to this show but will not have a good time if they don’t do the proper research. Little flourishes such as the Seaghan McKay’s Monty Python-like videos using the visual art of Vonnegut between scenes are a welcome distraction. Eric Levenson’s set design is done in the black-and-white style of Vonnegut’s signature doodles. These two key elements are saving graces. It is a successful tribute to the man even if it isn’t the most perfect of productions.