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Regional Reviews: Boston

Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind

Also see Nancy's review of The Normal Heart

Richard Snee, Barlow Adamson and Ross Bickell
SpeakEasy Stage Company is branching out, adding new plays to its programming which has been a model of excellence in the categories of revivals and second productions for two decades. First up is the world premiere of Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind, an adaptation by playwright Nicky Silver culled from some eleven versions of the play which the late Vonnegut never completed to his own satisfaction. Make that twelve.

Make no mistake, there is a story here and fun to be had, especially in the performances of a comedically talented quartet of Barlow Adamson, Ross Bickell, Tracy Goss and Richard Snee, but any logical connection between where the story starts and ends is pure happenstance. While preserving Vonnegut's dialogue and vestiges of his trademark dark, absurd humor, Make Up Your Mind plays like a 90-minute sitcom, only with a few things that might not make it past the Standards and Practices department.

The play revolves around Roland Stackhouse (Adamson) who believes that indecisiveness is humanity's greatest obstacle. He quits his job at the phone company and hangs out a shingle for his new business, Make Up Your Mind, Inc. His simple plan is to force people to make decisions and stick with them, or else face a severe beating from his enforcer Raymond. Stackhouse begins to see dollar signs when he meets Karen Finch (Goss), a wealthy flirt who can't even decide which dress to wear to a charity event. Her husband, who seems to own at least half of New York City, is a lothario and wants her to take a lover to enrich their marriage, so she hooks up with Roland. Needless to say, trouble ensues.

Roland's father George (Bickell) is on hand to constantly belittle him, even though he loaned him the money to start his business. Ottis Fletcher (Snee) is another client who hobbles in with a crutch, cast and sling, the result of his encounter with Raymond when he fell off the non-smoking wagon. Concerned that Fletcher might end up dead if he smokes again, Stackhouse tries to terminate their contract, but Fletcher argues that he needs to have the "bogeyman" looking out for him. A third client, only heard from by telephone, is a priest who has lost his faith and requires a miracle to get it back.

Like those who come to him for help, Roland is searching for what's missing in his life, but it turns out to be something quite unexpected. An unsatisfying marriage to an Eskimo woman, financial pressures, and the dysfunctional relationship with his father combine to overwhelm him, but a quickie with Karen is not the quick fix he hopes it will be. Roland is no more decisive than the rest of humanity, caving in when his back is to the wall. The conflict involves a porn film, starring a reluctant Roland and Karen, that Fletcher will direct and George sees as a get-rich-quick scheme. They lost me at this point where funny turns to silly and it embarks upon a meandering route to the end.

Director Cliff Fannin Baker establishes a good pace to wring the laughs from the material, and his team of designers creates a great playground. In fact, the visuals (Eric Levenson, scenic design; Seághan McKay, projection design; Karen Perlow, lighting design; Elisabetta Polito, costume design) and the '80s soundtrack (David Remedios, sound design) liven things up considerably. Vonnegut's doppelganger (Snee in a curly wig, mustache, cap and raincoat) appears periodically, spouting commentary on the human condition. He disputes Roland's declaration about indecisiveness and asserts in his final speech that "loneliness is the cancer killing us." This tells us that what the play has been about all along is the desire for connection, but, as "assembled" by Silver, Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind is missing a few pieces from the box.

Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind, performances through November 30 by SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or Written by Kurt Vonnegut, Assembled by Nicky Silver, Directed by Cliff Fannin Baker, Scenic Design by Eric Levenson, Costume Design by Elisabetta Polito, Lighting Design by Karen Perlow, Sound Design by David Remedios, Projection Design by Seághan McKay; Production Stage Manager, Dawn Schall Saglio

Cast: Barlow Adamson, Ross Bickell, Tracy Goss, Richard Snee

Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

- Nancy Grossman

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