The Soldier's Tale
Steppenwolf Theatre's "Traffic" series, which brings together artists from the disciplines of theater, music, dance, and literature, is an obvious forum for Igor Stravinsky's 1918 modernist landmark L'histoire du soldat, which gives the roles of orchestra and actors equal weight. But this one-night performance of Stravinsky's astringent score is paired not with C.F. Ramuz's original libretto but with a new script by Kurt Vonnegut (Steppenwolf gave his science-fantasy novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or the Children's Crusade a moving, inventive staging in 1996). The novelist has transformed Ramuz's tale--a Faustian fable about a serviceman who bargains with the devil for the love of a princess and a fortune in stocks and bonds--into a loose reenactment of the story of Private Eddie Slovik, the only American soldier executed for desertion in World War II. In Vonnegut's sometimes brutal version, the soldier (Paul Adelstein) dies because his honesty compels him to refuse a reprieve--if he were sent back into battle, he says, he'd just run away again. Vonnegut has turned Ramuz's narrator into a gruff general, his devil into an MP, and his princess into a Red Cross worker (played respectively by John Mahoney, Rick Snyder, and Barbara Robertson); they speak in verse when in character and in prose when narrating. Peter Amster directs; Orchestra X, a local chamber ensemble led by David Miller, performs not only Stravinsky's 55-minute work but a concert of short pieces demonstrating his influences, including jazz, rag, tango compositions, and a turn-of-the-century classical cornet showpiece. Vonnegut will be on hand to discuss his decision to rework Stravinsky's anticapitalist fantasy into this darkly ironic antiwar allegory. Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650. Monday, May 18, 7:30 PM. $30.