Vonnegut's new play: the peril of looting a dead writer's desk drawer

Last night I went with my friend Marilyn to a new play being premiered by the SpeakEasy Theater: Kurt Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind (for marketing purposes, his name is in the actual title of the play, even though he also listed as author). Vonnegut had certainly shown his ability to write plays in the past, like Happy Birthday, Wanda June, though I have no idea whether it was any good.

According to the Playbill at the performance, Vonnegut's Make Up Your Mind is self-referential, because he left 11 different drafts of the play at his death. Playwright Nicky Silver was asked to assemble them into one play, adding some other pieces from Vonnegut's essays and other writings (Vonnegut appears as a character).

It's terrible. Truly terrible. It's like a set of skits by a overindulged high school student who might show some promise if trained and disciplined. Scenes ramble on, looking for a punchline, characters wander on and off. But it isn't bad in an interesting or appalling way. It's just unsuccessful.

You can read about the plot elsewhere, such as it is. The actors seem skilled, but have so little to work with, they all seem gloomy and indecisive. It's not like the SpeakEasy to disappoint me in this way. This is a cruel thing to do to a dead writer. Vonnegut never finished. He was never satisfied with it. Writers write a lot. Some writers need to a write a lot of dreck to find the stuff that's good. Sometimes they neglect to burn the dreck before they die.

I know theater companies need premieres to show that they are not just museums of a dying art.  The acerbic Thomas Garvey, at Hub Review, has a bit of a rant on the state of new play productions in Boston, which matches my experience. I have not seen the other plays he mentions, but have had the experience in the past of wondering, at a new play, either "wow, what a disaster" (like Noah Haidle's Persephone), or "this play could have been pretty good, if it had been workshopped, edited, and taken on the road and then reworked again" (any number of recent productions). I've bitched about this before. You'd think, given the tiny number of slots for new play productions, the ones we see would be really good, or at least meretricious crowd-pleasers. They are never either.

This play is in the "disaster" category. And it's not even like Vonnegut's name will bring in a younger audience. It will be the usual cottontops who know what a granfalloon is.