“Butcher” is riddled with suspense and mystery, which explains why the GCTC’s synopsis was so vague. To say say much more, you’re almost obliged to reveal some of the unexpected plot twists that this show has in store for you, but I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible.
It’s Christmas Eve, and Detective Lamb, played by Sean Devine, has had the most unusual parcel delivered to him at the station: an old man in a Santa hat and a weathered old military uniform. The old man cannot speak English; the only form of identification he has on him is a butcher’s hook hung around his neck and the business card of local lawyer Hamilton Barnes speared on its point.
While Barnes, played by Jonathan Koensgen, can’t understand why the man would have had his business card, he agrees to stay on with Lamb on this lonely Christmas night to see if the interpreter that’s en route can reveal anything about the man.
However, it’s soon becomes apparent that the old man isn’t the only one with secrets.
Without going into too much detail, I can already say that this play is likely not for everyone. As the title implies, this show contains violence, some of the more realistic violence I’ve actually seen on stage. Uncomfortable as that is, I can appreciate it for what it is. The act and the threat of violence is so intrinsic to the suspense of this story that anything less would seem strange.
Much of the violence is done in slow motion with the lights dimmed, and while this does mute some of the intensity, it adds a touch of the grotesque by prolonging these otherwise quick acts.
This isn’t to say that this play is fueled solely on violence; most of this play actually focuses on the developing drama of the story line, as the secrets behind the mysterious Lavinian man are gradually rooted out.
While some of the twists may be anticipated, I feel that everyone will find themselves shocked at some point – a certain surprise at the end comes to mind.
While some twists may stretch the belief, bordering almost upon melodrama, the actors play it off rather well. Devine’s classic copper with a heart of gold mentality, manly but satirical (a perfect counterpoint to Jonathan’s intellectual and serious Barnes), reacts passionately passionately when the violence he is witness to threatens to spill over onto his own family.
Despite his character not speaking a word of English, John Koensgen, as the old man Josef Dzibrilovo, still maintains a commanding presence, expressing his character in ways that go beyond the limitations of language.
However. I feel his character comes, perhaps intentionally, to complicate the issues of justice that are at work in this play. When it becomes apparent that there are people who wish him harm for things he’d done in his past, it is too easy to feel sympathy for him, despite learning what he’s done. Perhaps it’s his helpless state that evokes this response, or his inability to confess to the audience in English, but the extra-judicial forces seem so monstrous by comparison, if only for the immediacy of their actions, that I think most will be disinclined to side with them, when I think the issue is supposed to be far more contentious.
If you’re a fan of cop dramas and suspense films, this may be one for you to check out, but it also has its own intellectual and critical themes that gradually become apparent. Just remember that, if you don’t have the stomach for it, the violence is there.