Art is about life and death, whatever the year is attached to it. I see a tearful mother’s cheek on a tapestry from 1520, and instantly I see those tears creeping from the eyes of mothers of fallen sons in Ukraine, no matter which side, sadness is sadness. In Puccini’s Opera Tuscany from 1900 unmistakably President Putin resounds in the secret police chief Scarpia. By the way, Floria Tosca and her lover perish in the West Side Story decor with the fire escapes. Much can be said about the perverse relationship between war and romance, but not now. Now I see the show Slaughterhouse fivethe stage version of Slaughterhouse-FiveKurt Vonnegut’s 1969 autofiction novel about World War II and the bombing of Dresden. The room is hypnotized. Everyone associates it with the current war. Me too.
But I also think of saucers, cups, bowls and coffee pots. To the Saxon Meissen crockery from the 18th century, which is now stealing the show in the Rijksmuseum, opposite Rembrandt’s ‘De Staalmeesters’. Meissen dishes are sublimely painted. China was fashionable and the figures seem mildly realistic. But that’s appearance. Look a little longer and you’ll see aliens from quasi-China.
And what does that old venerable Meissen have to do with Slaughterhouse five† Well, everything.
Through Meissen I get to know how superior stage maker Erik Whien Slaughterhouse five has directed. The main character endures so much deeply horrific, it is actually impossible to do. But we go along with it, because Whien presents the main character Billy Pilgrim as the Meissen figures. If he loses consciousness due to cold and sadism, actor Bram Suijker, who plays him, falls straight over. This is not a fall, this is a fall. It is real and unreal at the same time, just as a bonsai tree is a perfect tree: an oak in windowsill format, is that an oak? hello. Now Billy summarizes his life, and Bram Suijker strings it into a cord, in a danse macabre for one person. Marriage: arm angled for hooking. In the army: two arms in presenting rifle position.
And that mustache! Suijker wears Kurt Vonnegut’s 70s brush mustache, which Private Vonnegut did not have in 1944. But that mustache must. Because of the mustache we know: past, present and fantasy, everything together is one bouncing ball.
And then Billy makes trips to another planet. It is obvious to conclude that he vaccinated himself against his war trauma with science fiction. But Billy’s name is Pilgrim, and that offers possibilities. What if he himself is an alien, on an earthly pilgrimage, searching for knowledge about war, interesting because a uniquely human activity? I’m not saying it is, I think it’s because of Whien’s direction. He molds Billy into the uninhibited, sweetest man. Defenseless. Invulnerable. impossible. But he is there.