Mirvish presents Nicolas Billon’s theatrical thriller play BUTCHER in Toronto
It’s now hours after I’ve left the theatre and I think I’ve finally caught my breath after seeing BUTCHER, a stunning thriller of a play by Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon, presented by Mirvish as part of their Off-Mirvish series. As I collect my thoughts and sit down to write about the show, I get a text from the co-worker I brought with me tonight: “I’m still thinking about the play … it delivers such a striking note that lingers.”
BUTCHER opens on a Toronto police station on Christmas Eve where the lone detective (Tony Nappo) gently interrogates a lawyer (Andrew Musselman) about a mysterious man (John Koensgen) brought to the station wearing a foreign military uniform and bearing a meat hook piercing through the lawyer’s business card. The man only speaks “Lavinian,” an obscure Eastern European language, so the detective calls in a translator (Miranda Calderon).
What starts out deceptively looking like a light comedy—Tony Nappo’s brusque detective character especially delights in the early scenes—soon takes a startling turn, unearthing a decades-old conflict and plunging the audience into an exhilarating Tarantinoesque thrill ride. There are surprising twists, layers unravel, and the tension keeps rising until it becomes almost palpable.
The densely-packed and richly-layered script is superb. BUTCHER‘s central theme is the idea of revenge vs. justice. What I love most about Billon’s writing is the way he goes after big ideas; he’s not afraid to challenge the audience and make us a bit uncomfortable as we grapple with the increasingly complex web of moral ambiguities he weaves in front of us.
Billon’s script is elevated by Weyni Mengesha’s sharply focused direction. The pacing is relentless, and the tension continually builds as the play barrels toward its explosive finale. I especially appreciated Mengesha’s decision to stylize the moments of violence in the play (aided immensely by Kimberly Purtell’s lighting and Thomas Ryder Payne’s sound designs) to make them less graphic but arguably more impactful.
BUTCHER is truly an ensemble piece and the acting is consistently strong all-around, but two performances really stood out for me.
Tony Nappo displays such incredible range in his role as Detective Lamb. From the deftly-timed awkward humour at the beginning of the show through the roller coaster of emotions in the latter half, Nappo takes a somewhat unlikable secondary character and makes him memorable and almost sympathetic.
Elena, the translator, is one of the most compelling characters I’ve seen on stage in a while. She’s complex and has fascinating motivations that create uncomfortable moral dissonances for the audience. Miranda Calderon plays her with such clarity and conviction, and is in turns sympathetic and completely terrifying in the role.
Kudos to Mirvish for giving BUTCHER a chance to reach a broader audience by featuring it as part of their Off-Mirvish season. This exhilarating homegrown thriller deserves to be seen.
- BUTCHER is playing from March 25 – April 9, 2017 at the Panasonic Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto.
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesday, March 29, at 2:00 p.m.
- Tickets $39 – $92. Discounts for groups of 10 or more.
- Tickets are available in person at any Mirvish theatre box office, by phone at 416-872-1212 or online at Mirvish.com.
Photo of the company of BUTCHER by Dahlia Katz