Fans of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous dark stories such as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions should be warned that the North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of Who Am I This Time? (& Other Conundrums of Love). under the assured direction of Andrew Barnicle, is a light and optimistic play about love, adapted from three short tales by the acclaimed author.
The show begins with Long Walk to Forever, a comedic drama focusing on an army soldier, Newt (Ben Cole), who goes AWOL after he finds out that his former neighbor, Catherine (Christina Flynn), is engaged. Newt wants to profess his love to Catherine, but she believes that his confession is ill timed.
The second tale is a romantic farce, Who am I This Time?, which follows Harry Nash (Jason Maddy), an extremely shy and idiosyncratic hardware store clerk who happens to be the best actor in the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club. Harry is a method actor and totally commits to his role until the end of a theatrical run. He gets the part of Stanley Kowalski in a version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Complications ensue when a timid actress playing Stella Kowalski, Helene Shaw (Flynn), falls in love with Harry, not knowing how passive the real man actually is.
Who Am I This Time? concludes with the wickedly funny and touching parable, Go Back to Your Precious Wife and Son. The protagonist is a cynical writer, George Murra (Gregory North), who breaks up with his wife, a popular Hollywood actress, Gloria Hilton (Rosina Reynolds). After a wild night of drinking, he becomes determined to reconnect with his estranged son from his previous marriage, John Murra (Ben Cole).
Aaron Posner deserves a lot of credit for adapting Vonnegut’s work, and keeping his spirit and sense of humor intact. The messages about all kinds of deep affection are heartwarming, and relatable enough that the morals do not feel like something out of a cheesy Hallmark Card.
Even readers familiar with the three narratives in Who Am I This Time? might be a little caught off guard by the framing device that links everything together. The premise is that a fictional member of the North Crawford Mask & Wig Club, Tom Newton (James Leaming), is hosting a meeting, in the spring of 1962 that evolves into the separate romantic anecdotal stories. While this might sound too gimmicky of an idea on paper, Leaming’s performance makes it work with his down to earth portrayal of the Master of Ceremonies.
The ensemble all contributes fine work with Cole, Leaming and Cynthia Marty giving realistic takes on their characters. On the other hand, Flynn, Maddy, North and Reynolds play more eccentric roles and they all fully commit to their sometimes hilariously dysfunctional personalities.
Director, Barnicle, displays a variety of styles throughout the vignettes. Barnicle’s direction on Long Walk to Forever feels deliberately minimalist and quaint, while his take on the other two yarns are energetic and lively.
Some of the most creative sequences are several unique montages where Barnicle incorporates Matt Novotny’s lighting and Marty Burnett’s scenery. A scene that particularly stands out is when the three of them lovingly recreate the gritty bleakness of A Streetcar Named Desire.
Sonia Elizabeth Lerner’s costumes feels authentic to members of the 20th century middle class. This helps make the people in North Crawford, Connecticut, even more believable.
Who am I This Time? explores falling in and out of love with brilliant prose from the invaluable Vonnegut. If viewers do not relate at least a little bit to some of the situations, then they must live very sheltered lives with not a lot of social interaction.