Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon is a powerful writer and his mastery is certainly on display in his chilling play Butcher, currently being staged at the Panasonic Theatre as part of the Off-Mirvish series.
Butcher begins with an elderly man being dumped at a Toronto police station on Christmas Eve, drugged, wearing a Santa’s hat, military uniform and mumbling incoherently in a language no one seems to understand. The man is wearing a meat hook with a business card skewered on it with the message ‘arrest me’ scrawled across it. The card belongs to a lawyer, Hamilton Barnes who has been called into the station in the small hours of the morning. The inspector questions the lawyer as they wait for a Lavinian translator to arrive (we learn that this is the language the strange man was speaking). As layers are peeled away, surprising truths are revealed. This play is an unrelenting, 90 minute thrill ride.
Director Weyni Mengesha knows how to tell a story simply and powerfully. She also directed one of my favorite shows in the last several years: Lungs. She is able to create an intimacy and immediacy, finding the perfect metered pacing of the scripts she works on. Butcher moves fast and furiously swerving between breakneck comedy and heightened tragedy.
Tony Nappo absolutely kills it as Detective Lamb. His comedic chops are delicious to take in. The subject matter is intense and the latter part of the play gets eerily dark, so it’s nice to have so much levity off the top. It also makes the script particularly hard hitting. Because of the lightness of the earlier scenes, the drama sneaks up on you. John Koensgen as foreigner Josef Džibrilovo and Andrew Musselman as Hamilton both delivered strong, committed performances. Miranda Calderon’s take on Elena at times became a little one note—she played cold and icy, but it would have been interesting to see more vulnerability and despair over the awful memories that haunted her.
I haven’t seen other shows produced by Why Not Theatre but if this is the usual caliber of their productions, I’m looking forward to seeing more.
Butcher is on stage at the Panasonic Theatre, now through April 9. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit: mirvish.com