‘Busy, busy, busy,” chant the followers of the prophet/charlatan Bokonon to describe humanity in Kurt Vonnegut’s apocalyptic Cat’s Cradle. Untitled Theater Company #61 has taken the Bokononists’ words to heart: Their faithful adaptation of Vonnegut’s novel is accompanied not only by video footage of ingenious miniature sets for the book’s locales, but also by a brigade of robed Bokononists singing and dancing to Henry Akona’s calypso score. The production’s eager spectacle helps to distract somewhat from the lurking realization that Cat’s Cradle is only slightly less amenable to dramatic adaptation than the Book of Ecclesiastes: Vonnegut’s deliberately sketchy characters take a backseat to the novelist’s giddy, idea-driven subversion of novelistic form. Edward Einhorn’s adaptation doesn’t really try to find a way to translate Vonnegut’s innovations dramatically. As a result, too much of the play seems expository, as the book’s narrator, John (Timothy McCown Reynolds), alternately delivers chunks of Vonnegut’s prose and doggedly tracks down the children of the founder of the atom bomb.
Reynolds’s performance fits the part well; he plays John with the detachment of a less-excitable Errol Morris. The supporting cast has difficulty meshing performances, too many turning in caricatures with funny accents. John Blaylock, though, shines briefly as Ambassador Minton, delivering a quietly furious denunciation of patriotic holidays, and Michelle Rabbani invests Mona Aamons Monzano with sweet gravity. For all its flaws, the production does communicate Vonnegut’s lifelong and invaluable message, as summed up by Eliot Rosewater in a later novel: “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”