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The menu of concessions available for purchase during the two intermissions in Longacre Lea’s new adaptation of Cat’s Cradle includes onion rings priced at $0, a very slight joke that doesn’t make sense until later. As with the gag, so with the show. In translating for the stage Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist 1963 novel about life, the universe, and everything, director/playwright Kathleen Akerley has given herself no easy assignment. Despite her immersing, assured use (with set designer Tom Donahue) of Catholic University’s black box Callan Theatre and forceful work from an appealing cast juggling multiple roles (save for sturdy Michael Glenn, who remains our protagonist, Jonah, throughout), the initially promising results thicken over three hours into something bewildering and oppressive. Considering the tale’s apocalyptic bent, I’m not at all certain this means Akerley has failed. “Do you wanna go somewhere?” Suzanne Richard’s working girl asks Jonah in the show’s opening moments. “Ultimately?” he retorts. What seems like a throwaway rejoinder will prove prophetic: Man’s predilection for self-destruction, via religion or science or both, is the grand theme Vonnegut and Akerley string between their restless fingers. Jonah starts out hoping to write an account of what various notable Americans were doing when the A-bombs fell on Japan. (We’re in 1963, 18 years after the mushroom clouds.) His relatively straightforward interviews in Act One with the colleagues and grown children of one Felix Hoenikker—a deceased, fictitious member of the Manhattan Project—give way in Act Two to opaque political intrigue and religious inquiry on the (also fictional) Caribbean nation of San Lorenzo. Franklin, Felix Hoenikker’s eldest son, is poised to be installed in the presidency there, but he wants to pass the buck to Jonah because—yeah, I was lost by this point. When you have most actors playing three or four roles and no programs to help the audience keep score, that’s a recipe for confusion. It’s more profitable to savor performances like Michael John Casey’s bullish turn as sugar magnate Julian Castle—or Christopher Henley’s soulful ambassador Horlick Minton, or Heather Haney’s domineering Hoosier-mama Hazel Crosby, or Joe Brack’s emotionally stunted Felix—than to try to keep up with a story that becomes more elliptical as it grows more expansive, taking in religious movements and doomsday weapons and sins of the father and the tyranny of monogamous romantic love. Or as Jonah exclaims at one point, “My God, life! Who can understand even one little minute of it?” If Vonnegut’s puzzle of an allegory of an enigma of a book ultimately proves insoluble in three hours, you can’t say Akerley and company haven’t made a vigorous, honorable go of it, one that leaves you with the nagging sense that it may yet make sense later.