As I believe you should give yourself the gift of taking in the play Butcher, currently playing at the Prairie Theatre Exchange (PTE), I will not do you the disservice of talking about Butcher.
This makes for a difficult review to write. I will say that maybe this is appropriate as Butcher is not an easy play. It’s not easy for the audience, who for a good portion of the play is unaware of where the author is leading us. It is difficult for the actors as they must convey many subtleties as the context is complex and multilayered.
At times they need to be sympathetic, at times they need to be destabilizing, and they need to be, all the time, real. Such is the challenge of theatre. We, the audience, are watching real people, in a fabricated context, but in real time. There is a fourth wall between us and them, yet PTE’s thrust stage means there is proximity between us and them. It’s this distance of fiction and reality, possible and impossible, which is the edge that theatre continually straddles and it’s apparent in this play. We can almost tell when the actors truly inhabit the moment, which is also to say that the cast of Butcher is comprised of capable actors, each having their apparent strengths. Their choices highlight elements of the text in convincing ways.
I remind you, I am limited on what I can tell you about the play. I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that this play is only for theatre lovers. However, the art of theatre is apparent in the style that Nicolas Billon embraces. A note on the playwright, Billon is an award winning contemporary playwright who is growing in notoriety. Local theatre companies, like many throughout Canada, search for opportunities to put on a Billon play. Le Cercle Molière offered a French translation of Butcher earlier this fall, Theatre Projects Manitoba presented Iceland just a few weeks ago. Judging from the strength of these plays, we know Billon is a name that will reappear soon enough.
So, what is Butcher? Well, I believe it’s not too much to say that the play deals with many difficult subjects that are more than slightly topical. It’s not directly or exclusively related to recent news about terrorism attacks in Paris, or the Syrian refugee crisis, but yet the concept of war, ethnicities and revenge are not so distant. The emotions are raw right now. So lines like “Revenge is not a whisper you tell a priest, it’s a deep bellow meant to be heard by the world so that they can too can feel what you felt” is icy cold, yet empathetically approachable.
Ann Hodges, who directed the play, lets us enter the room with seasonal jazz Christmas delights, starting us off with hope that is instrincally linked to the season so not all is dark and somber. But not all music is meant to relax the audience. The play is wonderfully scored, letting the musical interludes bridge through difficult moments.
Let this holiday offering remind us how theatre is a gift much richer and more complex than any pair of socks waiting for you under the tree. It might be a dose of perspective well timely offered.
Butcher runs till Dec. 6 at PTE.