Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. The book that started my love affair with his pointed, tender humanist, science fiction was Slaughterhouse-Five, which I read in John Podas’ 12th grade English Lit class at Highland Park Senior High School. After Slaughterhouse-Five came Breakfast of Champions, Galapagos, Slapstick, or Lonesome No More!, Timequake, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, his essays, and, well, you get the point.
But Slaughterhouse-Five will always be the book that I come back to for Vonnegut, and as a touchstone to my understanding of the world. Amidst the brutality and stupidity of the firebombing of Dresden and the Second World War, in the strangeness of Kilgore Trout’s science fiction worlds, of alien abductions and captivity, porn stars and brigadier generals – in all that absurdity, Vonnegut found the people. That’s the art of it.
A week ago Monday we were celebrating the birthday of THESE ARE THE MEN’s director and champion, Blake E. Bolan, and I asked her what had surprised her most in the making of the play. She told me that it was the humans that had emerged on stage through the creation process. Even “characters that could have been moustache-twirling villains,” in her words, were now realized, sympathetic, and human. She of course, credited the actors for their work, but that’s the art of making a play together. Even in the myths that have been explored, deified and ingrained, we do the work of finding the human beings, with all their frailties exposed.
Slaughterhouse-Five also has a wonderfully understated line, referring to its hapless protagonist, “Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.” That unstuckness is the thing about the power of art, and of live theater. We get to live moments over, dissect, explore, get into the heart of the matter. What we can do with time together on stage plays out in THESE ARE THE MEN as it has played out in Savage Umbrella shows past, in THE RAVAGERS, CARE ENOUGH and RAIN FOLLOWS THE PLOW.
And that’s it for a Savage Umbrella show, as it will be for THESE ARE THE MEN, that we stick together in our unstuckness, we get under the umbrella and are human. THESE ARE THE MEN opens on Saturday. Come get unstuck in time with us.