PLAYWRIGHT and actor Carol Marquart has created and filled a niche for a brand of documentary drama based on significant eccentric Americans as different as Mark Twain and Bette Davis. Latest result of her of artful research is an engaging staged reading at the Carl Cherry Center called An Interview with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
Keith Decker plays the title role in make-up that makes him look startlingly like the pen sketch portrait on the theater program. He does a fine raspy-voiced, chain-smoking job as the discouraged 84-year-old remnant of 1960s life and letters, looking back on his career as an idol and prophet of the hippy culture. As with Vonnegut’s books, you feel sad but can’t help laughing as you learn about the downward spiral of his hopes of repeating the runaway success of Slaughterhouse Five with a succession of other good, but undervalued novels.
His interviewer is a woman named Lori Crenshaw, roughly based on a student he had a brief affair with while she was enrolled in his creative writing class at the University of Iowa. Lori’s decision to phone him forty years after their break-up sets Vonnegut on a rabbit trail of intriguing revelations and reminiscences of his life as a connoisseur of nicotine, booze, literary fame, available women and dirty jokes. Their phone conversations are an effective way of presenting the material about the man. Where I felt a lack was in the absence of a fuller development of the character of Lori. She is played with such charm and vitality by Carrie Collier that you almost forget that the script, once it’s dwelt with their brief affair, tells us much too little about the woman in favor of telling us a lot about the man.
We learn that she has written a novel and has some plays being produced by a local theater. And we see that she soon decides, without Kurt‘s knowledge, to tape their phone conversations. Interesting. But why does she do it? If the script mentioned what use she plans to make of this data, I missed the explanation of what could have produced a unique play about the relationship between two people instead of a succession of revelations, interesting as they are, about one.
What, I wondered, has inspired Lori to phone after all these years? How, if at all, does this new link with an old flame make a difference in the life of the raunchy, declining Vonnegut?
It’s nice to look back at a literary figure we older viewers revere as a clear and trenchant voice from the sixties. But it seems like a missed opportunity of acting talent to be given so little about the motives of an intriguing lady from his past or how her return made a difference in his life.
The play continues this coming Friday and Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday at 2.