Butcher, written by prolific Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon wastes no time in getting you hooked on the story (yes, pun intended).
The play opens with a mystery: Inspector Lamb (played masterfully by Alain Goulem) is working a dreary and rainy Christmas Eve shift when an old disheveled man named Josef (Chip Chuipka in an appropriately understated and mostly silent performance) is mysteriously left on the station’s doorstep. He’s drugged, disoriented and groggy, he’s wearing a Santa cap and he has a butcher’s hook hanging around his neck.
On the end of that hook someone has impaled the business card of a young lawyer named Hamilton Barnes with the words “arrest me” on it. Barnes (played with immense charm by recent UK ex-pat James Loye) has been summoned into the police station at 3 a.m. to explain how and if he’s at all connected to this man who keeps muttering in Lavinian to himself.
If you don’t know what Lavinian is, don’t feel stupid. It doesn’t exist. Billon had the brilliant idea to ask two University of Toronto linguists to invent a Slavic-sounding language for the play.
I don’t want to say more about the plot because then I would risk ruining it for you, but suffice it to say that the emotionally charged and magnetic Julie Tamiko Manning joins the storyline as Elena, a Slavenian translator, and in neck-break speed the play goes from laugh-out-loud funny and light to “what in the world did I just see happen?”
Butcher is such a nail-biter, such a fast, slick, funny, and effortless-to-watch whodunit, it begged the Globe & Mail to ask: “Can a play about torture and genocide be too entertaining?” Turns out the two can somehow co-exist in harmony, although you do catch yourself occasionally cringing for having laughed a minute ago.
But that’s the beauty of art. It’s irreverent. There are no safe zones or silent nods to political correctness. It’s life – ugly, unpredictable, imperfect, savage life.
“I wanted to use the thriller genre as a way to engage the audience’s imagination,” says the Toronto-based playwright in a CBC interview. “As long as the gravity of the subject matter is not undermined by the entertainment value, I think it’s a valid approach.”
It works. Billon has us hanging from the edge of our seats until the very end. We want to know how it unfolds because we genuinely care about all the characters in this story – even the ones who don’t deserve our mercy.
I saw the Quebec premiere almost two weeks ago, but because of other work commitments I wasn’t able to write a review until now. Between that Sunday afternoon matinee I took in and now, Paris happened. As I watched hundreds of innocent people lose their lives, slaughtered on the altar of hate, extremism, and destruction as an ideology, I thought of this play often.
WHERE DOES JUSTICE END AND REVENGE BEGIN?
This is a glorious rollercoaster ride, theatre at its finest, 85 minutes of smart, introspective, crafty writing. But it’s also about genocide, torture, and murder. It manages to ask complicated philosophical questions without necessarily asking them at all. At what point does justice end and revenge begin? Is it possible to administer one without somehow appealing to the very human need for the other? When do you let the desire for revenge go for the sake of your peace?
“When you remove the scales of justice, what are you left with?” asks one of the players in this intricate, multi-layered storyline. “Nothing,” replies the other, in a confused and demoralized whisper. “Wrong. She still has her sword,” comes the swift reply of the person avenging.
Violence alters society. Unspeakable torture changes the person subjected to it and the person administering it. You are not who you were before it arrived and the choices you make from this point forward determine your perspective and motivations. Violence begets violence. Death begets death. Revenge begets the need for more revenge. How do you right a wrong and still retain your humanity? How do you choose not to cross the line and is that even possible? It’s no accident that Billon has named the group intent on revenging past wrongs in this play the Furies, who, (also known as Erinyes) were goddesses found in ancient Greek tragedies administering justice and vengeance.
EXTENDED UNTIL DECEMBER 5TH
Originally scheduled to end November 29th, Butcher by Nicolas Billon has been extended for an additional four performances from Dec. 3rd through the 5th.
“We’re extremely pleased with the reaction to this excellent new play but it’s not wholly unexpected”, beamed Centaur Theatre’s Executive and Artistic Director, Roy Surette. “Nicolas is a very bright and talented writer; merely reading his play is an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting experience. Add the outstanding set and lighting design, the evocative sound and music, and the brilliant cast … key ingredients of a can’t-miss theatrical hit!”
Billon, born in Ottawa, but raised in Montreal, can add this successful run to his growing credits. He won the 2013 Governor General’s Award for Drama for Fault Lines and his play The Elephant Song was adapted into the 2014 film Elephant Song, directed by Charles Binamé and starring Bruce Greenwood, Xavier Dolan, and Catherine Keener.
I just found it its run has been extended today, so I would get my tickets before it sells out. I wouldn’t miss this riveting piece of theatre, if I were you.
For times and dates, you can call the Box Office: 514-288-3161 or check out their website.