Fans of early David Fincher films will really be in their element at Prairie Theatre Exchange this month.
Nicolas Billon’s Butcher is being performed — incredibly well, I should say — until December 6th, and much like Fincher’s Se7en and The Game, this is one darkly work where you are bludgeoned with suspense until the final moment.
Without giving too much away, the story is centred in a police station where The Old Man, a drugged, eastern European man in a Santa hat and general’s uniform from the fictions country of Lavinia (played by Harry Nelken) is being questioned by Inspector Lamb (Cory Wojcik) along with an intellectual property lawyer named Hamilton Barnes (Paul Essiembre). The lawyer, Barnes, is there because The Old Man had his business card on a butcher’s hook around his neck (along with a note that says “arrest me”), while a fourth character named Elena (Alicia Johnston) later enters as a nurse/interpreter, as no one can understand the Lavinian ramblings.
The performances are fierce within this plot that tackles issues like genocide and revenge. Each actor claws through the material like an animal whose true nature they are trying to keep in check.
Harry Nelken as The Old Man (Bruce Monk)
Harry Nelken as The Old Man in particular is a portrait of confusion, anger, and resentment – never once speaking a word of English but making all his intentions clear through crazy-eyed glances at each character. Johnston’s interpreter is fearless in her confronting of difficult truths. Essiembre, as the lawyer Barnes, is the seeming voice of reason, with an heir of British dignity, while Wojcik’s Inspector Lamb is his loud, comedic foil, who is into things like the UFC, hockey fights, and being a good dad to his two daughters.
Unlike Billion’s other play that is currently being shown in the city, Iceland at the Rachel Brown Theatre (review here), this is not a dark comedy, but rather a stark collision of ideals which causes us to examine our views of what is right, and whether justice and revenge are really so different after all.
All of the action takes place in one location, essentially unfolding in real-time, and is paced perfectly. Each act is broken up by a moody, original score and noirish rain effects that set a grim tone. The characters tease small hints about themselves (and each other) through their exploration of the strange circumstances that they’ve come to discover The Old Man, which culminates into some unsettling realizations.
But don’t let the uneasiness keep you away; the drama is gripping and captivating, inviting you into the characters lives while the actors slowly peel away more layers and provide real depth to these enthralling discoveries.
This is a play that challenges you with its themes, and tries to stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre, and it is quite successful. The time of it feels just right, as it clocks in at 90 minutes (with, thankfully, no intermission) taking its time to slowly ramp up into a satisfying climax, as the direction deftly keeps the action moving along.
Save the feel-good Christmas specials for closer to the holidays; for now, check your list twice and make sure Butcher is firmly planted on it – you won’t regret it.