Yes, work by Kurt Vonnegut is onstage-and it's about love. Big Dawg Productions presents Who Am I This Time (And Other Conundrums of Love) at Cape Fear Playhouse on Castle Street through February 18. This show is a collection of 3 (sort of) love stories from Welcome to the Monkey House.
Playwright Aaron Posner adapted this work for stage, and Anthony Lawson directs. Listen to our interview with Anthony above and see our extended conversation below.
The play is onstage at 8:00 pm on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, 3:00 pm Sundays through February 18. Tickets are available at the door and online.
Gina: Anthony, do you like Kurt Vonnegut?
Anthony: Of course I do.
Gina: I mean, who doesn't?
Anthony: I know. Well, I work at a bookstore so I do see some people who don't like or don't know of Kurt Vonnegut and then I end up giving them a little masterclass. I've had a few people they come and they're like, "Hey, I want to start reading Kurt Vonnegut." And I was like, "How much time you got? All right, here's what I think you should start with." Then I give them a list of what they should follow up with.
Gina: The stories that are involved in this play are probably not the most well-known.
Anthony: They're all from his first short story collection which is called Welcome to the Monkey House. That's probably one of the most accessible Vonnegut reads out there. They're very straightforward stories- for the most part. It's actually one of the books that I recommend high on the "If you want to read Vonnegut, read these to enjoy it but if you want to understand his writing style read something else."
Gina: How is this play structured?
Anthony: It's basically Kurt Vonnegut's version of Our Town. Kurt Vonnegut didn't write it, it's adapted from his stories. He only ever wrote one play. I think that was Happy Birthday Wanda June. Whoever adapted this, they took three existing short stories and turned it into a love story play and it's set in a nice little New England town in their little community theater in 1962. It's three stories just revolving around the strange individuals that fall in love within that little theater community.
Gina: So could you tell us just a little synopsis? Just a brief little nugget about each story?
Anthony: The first story is about a young man who is in the Army and has left the Army abruptly to tell a childhood love of his that he's in love with her right before she gets married. The second one, the "Who Am I This Time"- the actual story that the play gets its name from- is about a young lady who starts doing community theater and falls in love with the very charismatic lead actor without knowing that if he's not acting, he has no personality whatsoever. Like zero. He doesn't interact with people, he doesn't hang out. He only comes alive when he has a script and he's playing someone else. So she has to deal with that. Then the third one is taking a look at what it's like to be with someone for a very long time and how that makes you feel; if it's a good idea to stay with that person or if you leave, was that a bad idea? So you're basically hitting the three stages. You're hitting youth, middle aged, and older life with these three stories.
Gina: What of Vonnegut do we find in these three stories?
Anthony: The most Vonnegut part of this is the characters. In a typical love story you know the characters, you know the scenarios that they would be in, but when you throw a Vonnegut into the mix the characters are a little weird or their hang ups are not your traditional hang ups. You see a person that is just a blank slate and cannot interact with another human being on an emotional level but then once you put a script in their hand they lighten up. That's not something you typically find in reality.
It's Vonnegut saying whatever he's saying about either acting or about how true emotions are or how well that you can get along with someone as long as you don't mind the fact that some part of it's artificial. So while it's a love story, if you really think about it, it's not. You've got a girl who's in love with movie stars, who falls in love with a person who could be a movie star had they lived in a different town. So the main thing that makes this a Vonnegut piece is the strange characters.
Gina: I think the kind of characters he has or the situations, even though it's not realistic it somehow is making a big statement about reality.
Gina: I love Kurt Vonnegut.
Anthony: I do too. I really, really love Kurt Vonnegut. I discovered him in my 20s. So not in high school. I know a lot of people usually find him in high school and are like, "What is this?" But he just kept popping up in every movie I would watch. I hit this age where it was like everybody who was making a movie had discovered Vonnegut when they were younger and so they would throw him in there. If you look at Footloose or Can't Hardly Wait, Varsity Blues, they're always talking about Slaughterhouse Five or going to a Kurt Vonnegut reading. It was just all over the place so I'm like, "Who's Vonnegut?"
Gina: I think that people should be introduced to Vonnegut as early as possible. I think it will help with our development.
Anthony: I would second that. A good way of doing that is to see this play.
Gina: There you go. Is this appropriate for all ages?
Anthony: Yeah. I can't think of a single bad word in the entire show. Which again, for Vonnegut it's very weird.
Gina: So again, these are love stories.
Anthony: They are love stories.
Gina: But they're not they're not traditional love stories.
Anthony: I wouldn't say that they were traditional.
Gina: And they're not necessarily lovey dovey.
Anthony: Hmm. If people are familiar with the shows that I usually do which are the grittier, edgier, usually rock kind of shows- this is the complete opposite. This is very sweet. It's very loving, but not in the way that you feel like you want to throw up in your mouth a little bit. It's very nice. I watched Paddington 2 yesterday and when something's that sweet and that earnest and you should feel like you're sick watching it, but it's just enjoyable. I feel that way when I'm watching this. I'm like, " Ugh, these people are in love and they're talking about being in love and they're kissing." That's not something I enjoy, but watching them do it and watching this play, it just completely works.
Gina: What's your favorite scene?
Anthony: That's hard. One of my favorite scenes is the Verne audition scene. The fun thing about playing community theater in community theater is that you can really poke fun of it. In Wilmington we call it a community theater but we are such a professional- is there such a thing as a professional community theater? Because that's what we are. The standards that we have are far superior than what you would consider a quote unquote "community theater." But this is a little community theater in 1962. This is truly the guy at the hardware store coming down to audition. So we really get to poke fun at non actors auditioning and what they think acting is and there's nothing better than bad acting on purpose. I think the worst thing to do on stage is to act drunk, but we have two people that do it very well in this play. And one of the best things to do is to act like you're a bad actor. That is the most fun.