In the fallout of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Lifeline Theatre brings the end of the world to the stage with an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s timeless cautionary tale, Cat’s Cradle. This 1963 satire follows a freelance writer and his research into the enigmatic life of Dr. Felix Hoenikker. This fictional Nobel Prize-winning scientist, loosely inspired by J. Robert Oppenheimer and Irving Langmuir, is renowned for his pivotal role in the creation of the atomic bomb. As the narrative unfolds, the writer becomes increasingly ensnared in the surreal and apocalyptic consequences stemming from Hoenikker’s final creation. Lifeline Theatre ensemble member John Hildreth’s adaptation of Vonnegut’s classic novel is a relevant retelling amplified by director Heather Currie’s explosive production.
The dark humor of Cat’s Cradle examines the various man-made creations responsible for the end of the world: technological advancement, global politics, and organized religion. The cast of nine portrays a rogues’ gallery of scientists, politicians, capitalists, Hoosiers, Cornell alumni, and many others who exemplify the best and worst of human nature. The absurd and colorful characters are as hilarious as they are appalling, and the cast of Cat’s Cradle is chock-full of comedic performers who can find the humor in the grave. Tony Bozzuto portrays Jonah, the freelance writer and narrator who boldly trudges into the chaos only to be swept up by it. Bozzuto transforms from the curious and critical voice of reason to a befuddled player in a falling house of cards and does so with a captivating, sympathetic bravado.
The production’s inspired design is as cartoonish as the characters, bringing the 1960s setting to life in brilliant technicolor. Lindsay Mummert’s mid-century set taps into familiar science-fiction suburbia reminiscent of the Jetsons and incorporates two-dimensional plants that are both playfully and eerily devoid of life. Kitschy vintage props thoughtfully collected by Saskia Bakker are tucked within secret openings throughout the multi-purpose set. Aly Amidei resourcefully curates period costume pieces that transform an actor from a renowned scientist to a barkeep to a Midwest businessman in a matter of seconds. The nature of the production requires that these garments are adorned and dismissed with whip speed and still Amidei’s design features noticeable detail and a charming sense of humor, even for costumes that only grace the stage for mere moments.
The lighting and sound design of Cat’s Cradle work in tandem to reflect Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical response to earnest anxieties about the atomic age by leaning into the global threat most relatable to today’s audience, climate change. Dr. Felix Hoenikker’s final invention and the unfortunate catalyst for the apocalypse is Ice-nine, a substance that can instantaneously solidify liquid matter. Sarah Riffle’s lighting design uses saturated color to communicate the deathly temperature change when the warm Caribbean Island of San Lorenzo is suddenly cooled by a scientific mishap. Sound design by Stephanie Senior underscores and energizes the global calamity, making the intimate performance space feel expansive.
Cat’s Cradle at Lifeline Theatre is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking production. The renowned source material pointedly skewers unflinching patriotism, unquestioning righteousness, and unrelenting capitalism – criticisms that are as justified today as they were in 1963. Director Heather Currie leans into the laughable absurdity that Vonnegut saw in the very real forces that haphazardly control our world. Currie doesn’t have a solution to the challenges that keep us all teetering at the edge of the world’s end, but she does have a pretty good joke. In a time marked by powerless pessimism, Cat’s Cradle presents a therapeutic romp that validates our fear and gives us permission to laugh in its face.
Cat’s Cradle runs at Lifeline Theatre until October 22.
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Tony Bozzuto, Jonah
Johnard Washington, Bokonon/L. Boyd Johnson
Mandy Walsh, Mrs. Crosby/Sandra/et al
Jocelyn Maher, Angela/Mr. Minton/et al
Vic Kuligoski, Franklin/Jack/et al
Shea Lee, Newt
Patrick Blashill, Felix/Mr. Crosby/et al
Shelby Lynn Bias, Mona/Mrs. Minton/Ms. Pefko
Anthony Kayer, Dr. Asa Breed/Marvin Breed/et al
John Hildreth, Playwright (Adaptation)
Heather Currie, Director
Hanna Smaglis, Stage Manager
Aly Amidei, Costume Designer
Stefanie Senior, Sound Designer
Saskia Bakker, Props Designer
Adi Davis, Production Manager
Lindsay Mummert, Scenic Designer
Ava Niemi, Asst. Production Manager
Harrison Ornelas, Technical Director
NaVada Reed, Asst. Stage Manager
Sarah Riffle, Lighting Designer
Karen Wallace, Lighting Supervisor
Jackie Jasperson, Production Photography