To get to the cosmic vastness of The Sirens of Titans, one must start with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the much-loved writer of such quirky novels as Cat’s Cradle and God Bless, You Mr. Rosewater, as well as the devastating, satirical anti-war novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, and many others. Mr. Vonnegut was a product of his times, the Great Depression, World War II, the Eisenhower Fifties and the psychedelic Sixties. He was an atheist and a humanist who had love in his heart for people, those who suffer and struggle against the often random, confounding situations of life.
In The Sirens of Titans, a singular individual, the richest man in a future America, gets embroiled in the chronosphere of the time-space continuum that is uncontrollable as it buffets him around the solar system. There are clear influences at play here, most notably the Odyssey of Homer, as might be deduced from the title. In the stage adaptation by Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame, there are theatrical influences as well. The play is Brechtian in it presentational style with direct didactic speeches to the audience reinforced by words on signs and projections. One can also see whiffs of Samuel Beckett, with characters trapped in their circumstances like the woman in Happy Days who lives in a hillock with only her torso to be seen, or the old people in Endgame who live in dustbins.
Even if I wanted to fully recount the twisting plot of The Sirens of Titans, it is too detailed and convoluted to do so in what I intend to be a relatively short commentary. In brief then, a wealthy, effete New Englander, Winston Niles Rumfoord (Eric Curtis Johnson) rockets into outer space accompanied by his dog, Kazak (delightfully portrayed by Tim Kopacz in a terrific dog suit), only to be sucked into a “chrono-synclastic infundibulum,” which the novel defines as “those places…where all the different kinds of truths fit together.” Rumfoord’s circumstances only allow him to return to Earth for a limited time and only at certain intervals. His situation permits him to see all of the future as well as the past. He is a manipulative son of a bitch who reveals to the multi-billionaire mentioned above, Malachi Constant (Pete Caslavka), and to his bitter self-absorbed wife, Beatrice (Jaime Andrews), that he knows their fate, which is that they will travel to Mars where Beatrice will become pregnant by Malachi in a union that will produce a son named Chrono (Jax Ball).
As the plot surges on, our dubious hero, Malachi, gets pressed into the Martian Army, loses his memory, is re-named Unc, and becomes a survivor of a war between Earth and Mars. Along with another survivor of that war, Boaz (K.J. Middlebrooks), Unc, through the unaccountable vagueries of time/space, becomes a castaway on Mercury, and eventually winds up on Saturn’s moon, Titan, where he reunites with Beatrice and Chrono. There he encounters Salo (the amazing, protean actor Jesse Merlin), a pumpkin shaped robot with three arms from the planet, Tralfamadore. Understand that there is much, much more that is left for an audience to discover. So, what about the Sirens? See the play.
The Sirens of Titans is a big production, a satire that spoofs religion, social interaction, evil power structures, the insanity of war and more. Director Ben Rock, with some notable exceptions, moves the action along crisply, well aided by a flexible, tongue-in-cheek scenic design by Krystyna Łoboda, with excellent lighting by Matt Richter and Adam Earle. Costuming by Jennifer Christina DeRosa is clever and colorful. Projections by Hat & Suitcase are terrific, as is the sound design by Jaime Robledo.
The Sirens of Titans is a feast for the eyes and the intellect, with an excellent cast that goes for broke with heartfelt emotion and a total commitment to the style of the show. This script was last produced in Chicago forty years ago and who knows if or when it will ever be produced again. If you want to see and experience something totally unique, get on down to Sacred Fools where The Sirens of Titans has been extended through May 13. That’s Sacred Fools, 1076 Lillian Way in Los Angeles.