The Art of Peace the Cause of Questioning War Brings Together Kurt Vonnegut, Igor Stravinsky, and a Webster U. Professor

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L'Histoire du Soldat premieres at 8 p.m. Monday on the mainstage of the Loretto Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves. Admission is $6, $3 for seniors and students. For info and reservations, call 968-7128.

There will be a second public performance 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Louis University High School Performing Arts Center, 4970 Oakland. Tickets are $6, $3 for students. Call 531-0330, ext. 569.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr., 74, a famous novelist who years ago opened the first Saab dealership in the United States, has a friend in suburban Oakland -- Harry James Cargas, a writer and teacher and emeritus professor at Webster University. Vonnegut and Cargas go way back, and they're getting together again here for three days of unusual theater. We mention the Swedish car dealership because it's a fine example of Vonnegut's off-plumb way of looking at things. He figures it's one of the reasons he should get the Nobel Prize for literature, presented each year in Stockholm, Sweden. There are two reasons, as he told the Rocky Mountain News: The Saab dealership and "I'm a great writer." But what will play in Webster Groves and St. Louis this Monday through Wednesday -- "L'Histoire du Soldat" -- is quite a writing departure even for an old pro like Vonnegut. "I started working on this at least two years ago," he said, speaking by telephone from his apartment in New York. The project began when A. Robert Johnson, founder and artistic director of the New York Philomusica, asked writer George Plimpton to see if Vonnegut would recast "L'Historie du Soldat," or "A Soldiers Story." Plimpton, another of Vonnegut's friends, approached him about rewriting the text of the 1917 Igor Stravinsky music drama. The original script is by Swiss writer Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz. Vonnegut says the original story line is nonsensical, but the music was wonderful. Stravinsky wrote 15 short pieces, each with its own title. Vonnegut agreed that the story needed a major update. "In the original, the soldier carried a violin -- just the thing to have in a foxhole! It had absolutely nothing to do with being a soldier." So Vonnegut updated the text and gave it martial relevancy. His version is loosely based on the execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik, the only GI executed for desertion in World War II, and the first since the Civil War. And in telling Slovik's story, Vonnegut nods in the direction of his friend Cargas. Vonnegut is coming here without charging a fee; "I'm doing it for him," he said of Cargas. Both Slovik and Cargas grew up in Hamtramck, Mich., and attended the same grade school in that Detroit industrial enclave. Cargas, a veteran of the Korean War, wrote the program note, saying "anyone familiar with the writings of Kurt Vonnegut will understand what attracted him to this person {Slovik}: his littleness, his dismal life, his tragic death. …