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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
CATCH 22
at the Lucille Lortel

THE ABSURDITY OF WAR
By STUART MILLER

  John Lavelle/PH: Richard Termine

There is, as always, a catch. When it comes to transforming a novel into a play, the catch is that no matter how faithful the adaptation, something-tone, themes, storylines-gets lost. Joseph Heller found this out for himself in 1971 when he adapted his classic anti-war book Catch 22 only to find that after a fitful production in the Hamptons, the show disappeared like his characters Clevinger and Orr.

But Orr was rediscovered at the book's end and now Catch 22 has been rediscovered on stage, at the Lucille Lortel where Peter Meineck and Aquila Theatre have given it new life in a worthy, entertaining and sometimes riveting production. It is positively frightening how relevant to the Iraq War the story seems today, telling the tale of John Yossarian, a World War II bombardier who decides he doesn't want to fly more missions, even as his superiors continually raise the total required for Yossarian to go home, along with the subplot of Milo Minderbinder, who is privatizing the armed forces, one item at a time, bringing along a morally bankrupt corporate culture.

Meineck has adapted Heller's original play, and does an impressive job of streamlining an incredibly complex story. Still, he can't ultimately escape that original catch. The play wisely lifts entire pages of dialogue directly from the book, but even as the lines capture Heller's acerbic and absurdist humor, something falls away, that unique alchemy that made the book unbearably funny-unbearable because of how it was simultaneously so tragic.

Some of the problem stems from Meineck's casting and handling of John Lavelle as Yossarian. While it is nearly impossible to bring a book's protagonist to life in a way that will match the image in the mind's eye (especially when so many millions of people have their own image), Lavelle is robustly handsome and seems to lack the weariness and emotional angst pushing Yossarian to the brink of insanity (or sanity, such as the case may be). In the book, Yossarian is frustrated and desperate-the words "wailed" and "pleaded" pop up with his name-underscoring the surreal situation and thus the humor while making the reader angry and indignant on his behalf. But Lavelle often seems angry and indignant himself, depleting some of his lines of their laughs and leaving the audience nowhere to go emotionally. (The other six cast members largely handle their two dozen roles with skill and aplomb, though most are barely developed characters.)

Still, Yossarian survives despite Catch-22 and Catch 22 survives its catch in making the leap from page to stage-if it's not a classic like the original, it is certainly a notable and timely play that would stand alone even for someone who hasn't read the book.

 


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