The mad theatrical genius of Exposition Park, Matt Posey, is never at a loss for original ideas, regularly plumbing the far reaches of performance, and melding classic elements with contemporary in what are always entertaining creations.
For his latest work, Posey has ventured once again into the realm of the musical with The Butcher, savagely harmonizing at one of the coolest little theaters in town, The Ochre House.
Butcher transports the audience to wartime Ireland into the home/shop of butcher Zachary Blut (Posey) and his wife Gerty (Elizabeth Evans). What with it being wartime, meat is scarce, especially pork. So, imagine Zachary’s good fortune when he comes across a black market, and surprisingly verbose, pig (a puppet operated and voiced by Kevin Grammer). The butcher could easily sell the delicacy to any number of British noblemen for a hefty profit. Unfortunately though, as the world has a way of enacting cruel circumstance, the same day he comes into possession of the pig is the day his butcher shop is due for inspection by Cygnus Taylor (Grammer). To be caught with the contraband is a crime punishable by death.
When attempts to hide the bounty fail, and bribery gets him nowhere, the butcher turns to the next logical conclusion and initiates a traumatic spiral into the depths of human depravity.
Outwardly acting to drive the plot forward are the homeless, blind twins, Castor (Justin Locklear) and Pollux (Mitchell Parrack). The Greek influence in their naming can’t be ignored as it’s a blatant nod to their status as a sort of hybrid Greek chorus, though later in the show they take a much more active role in the proceedings.
And providing the eerie, Weill-esque soundtrack for the evening is the combo of Ross Mackey on guitar, Bobby Nazem on percussion and Scott Shaddock on keyboard.
Posey has a solid group around him at the Ochre House and he once again is able to conjure all the talent to the surface, as both the cast and musicians impress.
Evoking images of Helena Bonham-Carter, Evans strikes an exacting balance between the good-hearted, submissive wife and maddening desperation. She flips between the masks as if flipping a light switch.
Locklear and Parrack possess strong chemistry and deftly maintain their more comic tones despite being dropped right in the middle of what would otherwise be a horrifying tragedy. The ability to maintain proper tone in dark comedy is a difficult feat to master, and they stick the landing.
In pulling double duty and puppeting a giant pig, Grammer certainly merits special mention. The distinction between the pig and the inspector might seem like an easy task to accomplish. But, even with two such different roles, playing more than one character can be quite difficult and Grammer aces the challenge, complete with at least one impressive quick change.
Matt Posey is just an imposing figure. His charisma radiates from the stage and his presence is nearly suffocating. It’s like he’s Superman and the stage is Earth’s yellow sun. He derives power from it and transforms into another person, a terrifying, if not just desperate, butcher in this case. He is intimidating, which naturally means he is successful.
A constant hallmark of Posey’s pieces is the influence of art forms, both classical and international, that today’s average theatergoer may not be familiar with.
In Butcher, Posey gives the story an international flair by the use of Japanese bunraku with the elaborately grotesque pig puppet, Greek tragedy, and a little Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht flavor thrown in with more than a passing reference to it being a “light opera,” like Weill and Brecht’s famous The Threepenny Opera.
And it’s this combination of inventiveness and stylistic attentiveness that makes Posey’s creations must-sees. It’s didactic theater at its finest. The Butcher pulls the veil back on the darker side of human nature, but balances out the dark tones with entertaining music and apt comic relief.
It’s finely marbled tragedy served up bloody with a side of whimsy and comedy. In other words, a show you can really sink your teeth into.