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Welcome to the Monkey House []



Selections from Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s Welcome to the Monkey House, an anthology of shorter fiction, appeared on the Showtime channel in the early 1990’s. The series was on the air for a brief time, but all of the episodes exist on a dvd that we’ve just received from the Pleasant St. Video collection.

Welcome to the Monkey House is fascinating from the outset; the author makes an on camera introduction to the episodes. His opening dialog is the only instance of seeing him on film/tape that I can recall (until this moment, I’ve used my imagination to estimate his mannerisms via book jacket photographs!).

The stories and the overall feel of the series strike a kinship with David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. Both idiosyncratic television programs were on the air around the same time, draw from 1950’s style and also deal with the abnormal. A mysterious double life, a sadistic battle of wits involving humans as chess pieces, a woman’s obsession with home design catalogs and a child’s eventful night without a babysitter all feature in Welcome to the Monkey House.

Vonnegut has always struck me as someone who has the ability of skillfully introducing science fiction elements or ideas into his writing without having them seem far removed from contemporary society. Though he often delves into the world of science fiction, I can’t classify him solely as a science fiction writer. His laconic central characters tend to ease us into strange, new worlds by having a dark sense of humor or an overall surly, sarcastic attitude toward the present state. For instance, a soap opera actor portraying a doctor is lead into mansion that houses an elderly woman whose only original body part is her head. The actor is initially surprised, but accepts the situation within moments after the orchestrator of this scientific achievement gives his explanation in the most blasé fashion possible.

Kurt Vonnegut’s stories are wonderfully captured in this series and feature performances by Madeline Kahn, Frank Langella, Jon Cryer and many more fine character actors. It was a short lived television program, but it managed to capture some of the author’s bizarrely brilliant concepts.

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