Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

A Stunning Slaughterhouse-Five
Book-It Repertory Theatre

Also see David's review of The Illusionists

Jim Gall, Robert Bergin, Erik Gratton, and
Todd Jefferson Moore

Summertime is not usually when a theatre company programs its most ambitious work, let alone one that fires on all burners the way Book-It Repertory Theatre's Slaughterhouse-Five does. Director/adapter Josh Aaseng's enveloping script is based on Kurt Vonnegut's seminal satirical novel (Subtitled "The Children's Crusade: A Duty Dance With Death") from 1969. Those unfamiliar or only slightly familiar with Vonnegut's style and universe of characters need not worry, for the Book-It team, led by the intrepid and talented Mr. Aaseng, create an astonishing work that needs no prior reference point—only an open mind and heart ready to go with central character Billy Pilgrim further over several rainbows (and back) than Dorothy Gale ever dared to dream.

Vonnegut himself is established as the narrator of the adventures of Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist from Ilium in upstate New York, leading an unremarkable life with a wife and kids. Billy also happens to randomly travel in time and experiences abduction by aliens from planet Tralfamadore, who see everything in the fourth dimension, and where he fathers a child with a sexy B-Movie star named Montana Wildhack. During World War II, he was a prisoner of war in Dresden, which had a lasting effect on his post-war life. His time travel occurs at desperate times in his life; he re-lives events past and future and becomes fatalistic (though not a defeatist) because he has seen when, how and why he will die.

Aaseng's cast includes a young, middle-aged, and elder Billy who appear in some scenes by themselves in "their" timeline, but often in choral narrative as well. Robert Bergin is earnest, rather childlike, and full of wonder as young Billy surmounting the cruelties and camaraderie of war. Erik Gratton is by turns wryly amusing and subtly heartbreaking as the middle Billy (and gamely up for the nudity required of himself and co-star Sydney Tucker's Montana as they are on-view in the Tralfamadore zoo). Todd Jefferson Moore is deliciously eccentric and riveting as the elder Billy. As Vonnegut and a host of other characters, Jim Gall, a stalwart Seattle actor of many years, is at his best here bringing his commanding presence to the versatility the task requires. Cobey Mandarino, Martyn G. Krouse, Benjamin McFadden, and Eleanor Moseley are stand-outs in a most accomplished ensemble of seemingly tireless actors, who shed costume, accents and characterizations as effortlessly as you can imagine. All this and a swell barbershop quartet that adds additional oddness to the quirky aura if this piece.

Top drawer technical support comes from Catherine Cornell's well-conceived and versatile scenic design, Kent Cubbage's ambitious lighting design, Pete Rush's marvelous era-spanning costume design, and Matt Starritt's sound design.

For me, Slaughterhouse-Five is like a roller coaster ride through a significant part of the 20th century, with a pinch of "The Twilight Zone" on-top. It ranks alongside Book-It's Cider House Rules as an especially impressive achievement by a worthy company. At mid-point through this year it is also the best straight play I have seen, and I urge you to see it as well.

Book-It Repertory Theatre's Slaughterhouse-Five runs through July 3, 2015, at The Enter Theatre in Seattle Center's Armory, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle. For reservations/information call 206-216.0833 or to

Photo: John Ullman

- David Edward Hughes