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Friday September 16, 2016

 

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Written by Deborah Rankin for VMO
Saturday November 21st, 2015

Butcher: The word can mean your friendly neighborhood butcher who gives you the best cut of meat, or it can conjure up images of unspeakable horrors in a world gone mad, depending on the context. The Centaur Theatre Company's production of Butcher, written by Nicolas Billon and directed by Roy Surette, turns on exactly this kind of double meaning. For things are not always what they seem in this political thriller about ethnic strife and intergenerational violence, playing until Nov. 29th at the Centaur Theatre in Old Montreal. 

Inspired by Greek drama, Butcher is a loose adaptation of the The Oresteia by Aeschylus. This is at once a modern morality play, exploring the fine line between justice and revenge, and a theatrical page-turner with killer plot twists. Tickets were in such high demand for the Quebec premiere of Butcher that there were 4 RSVP opening nights. The play debuted at the Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary last year and there have been 5 more productions this year in Canada and the U.S., in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Chicago, with one in the works for Paris. But, this isn't surprising given the fact that the native Qu├ębecois Billon, whose plays have been produced in both official languages, won the 2013 Governor General's award for his triptych Fault Lines, establishing his reputation as one of Canada's finest playwrights.

Taking some cues from the Film Noire genre, the plot revolves around an elderly man wearing a Santa Claus hat (Chip Chuipka) who is dropped off at a police station on Christmas Eve. He is wearing a general's uniform with a butcher's hook hanging from his neck. A lawyer's card is attached to the hook with the words "Arrest Me" written on it. The man appears to be speaking a foreign language, but neither Inspector Lamb (Alain Goulem), nor Hamilton Barnes (James Loye), who's been called into the station to answer some questions because it's his card, can make it out. Soon a translator/nurse Elena (Julie Tamiko Manning) arrives. From thereon in, this psychological drama maps the territory of shifting alliances, old loyalties, and alter-egos in a world far removed from the past conflicts that gave rise to present realities. 

This is a harrowing tale about the terrible unforseen consequences of war. The members of the ensemble cast play off against each other fairly well up to a critical point in the play, but otherwise fail to express the charged feelings or convey the emotional undercurrents that the grim subject matter requires. Chip Chuipka proves the exception and does an admirable job of portraying the mysterious stranger Josef Dzibrilovo. All things considered, the brilliantly conceived script makes up for any shortcomings in the actors' performances.

One of the most intriguing features of Butcher is the use of an entirely invented language in parts of the play. Billon came up with the idea as a way of conveying the violence inherent in his topic without having to either show or describe it onstage. To that end he enlisted the help of Slavic linguist Dr. Christina Kramer who partnered with a colleague to create a whole new language referred to as Lavinian in the play.
Evita Karasek's design, realistically depicting a police station, at times almost magically appears to dissolve, transporting the audience to another realm. The backdrop of continual rain, Martin Sirois's flashes of lighting and the surreal soundscape of Keith Thomas all combine to convey a sense of another time and place existing forever in the inner landscape of memory.

Butcher is at the Centaur Theatre
453 St. Francois-Xavier St., to Nov. 29
514-288-3161
www.centaurtheatre.com

 

 

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