Adapting Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 novel “Mother Night” for the stage, as Brian Katz has done in addition to directing, presents a strong challenge. There are switches in time frames, explanations delayed and complexities that are harder to address in a play than in a novel. There is also the power of Vonnegut’s colorful writing.
Credit Katz and cast with succeeding in presenting a fascinating work in this adaptation offered by The Custom Made Theatre Company. The drama is not only involving, but may make you want to read the novel if you have not already done so.
Gabriel Grilli does an effective job in playing the lead character, Howard Campbell, who narrates the story, starting from his imprisonment in an Israel jail cell. Why is he there and what road led him to that point in his life?
Campbell’s existence has been intricate. In Germany he became involved in the Nazi propaganda machine and did broadcasts to support the Third Reich. However, he was also supposed to be spying on behalf of the allies. Was he?
We see his personal life displayed via his marriage to Helga, played intriguingly by Trish Lindstrom. He is subsequently led to believe that she is dead. Later, a woman claiming to be Helga has returned, and after their intimacy and he thinks their love has been rekindled, the woman confesses that she is really Helga’s sister (Also Lindstrom, of course.)
An array of other characters are portrayed variously by Matthew Van Oss, Dared Wright, Dave Sikula, Andrea Gallo and Eric Rice. The staging is simple, with Campbell often seated at a desk behind a typewriter. Adolph Eichmann (Van Oss) appears in a strange scene between him and Campbell.
Vonnegut doesn’t just examine a life. He positions his characters to give meaning to what he devises dramatically. Here question are addressed as to who we really are and whether what we seem is the whole story. The author also poses his questions in the larger context of war and its aftermath.
The staging is an intimate work, well-performed and directed and reminding us anew of what a creative force Vonnegut was. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Reviewed October 11, 2018.