Centaur Theatre’s play shows four characters dealing with their issues on one twisted night
Before the play started, I heard a few people behind me talking about how they fell asleep at another play they saw and how they hoped this wouldn’t be as boring. It is safe to say that they were wide awake the whole 83 minutes.
I have an analogy for Butcher. It’s like a box within a box, within a box. Now, imagine those boxes unfolding with the utmost grace and in slow-motion. Once you reach the last box and you open it, the revelation you discover both scares you and takes your breath away.
The story takes place in a Toronto police station on Christmas Eve. Four characters spend an unforgettable and twisted night together: a rather uptight and proper lawyer named Barnes; a chatty inspector with bad jokes; a mystery man wearing a general’s uniform and a butcher’s hook around his neck with Barnes’ business card on it, and a translator named Elena.
The play escalates from a mundane day at the office to an immaculately planned out revenge plot.
The man in the General’s uniform turns out to be a war criminal known as “the Butcher,” targeted by a revenge-seeking, ruthless and very creative organization. Elena, a former war prisoner, is fueled by a personal vendetta against the Butcher and has come to serve justice.
It was hard to sympathize with both parties, but it was also hard to despise them. Essentially, both the Butcher and Elena were instruments of war. The Butcher, poisoned by the power of his job, put extra effort into punishing the prisoners and keeping them in line. His heinous actions in turn had far more destructive results than just keeping prisoners from escaping the concentration camps. The consequences of his actions forever tainted the lives of his victims and fueled revenge and hatred that would be carried on in an endless cycle.
At the beginning, you don’t really understand why the poor lawyer Barnes is there. Even he doesn’t fully understand why he is there. Soon enough, you see Barnes’ connection to the whole thing and in one of the many plot twists, Barnes becomes somewhat of a Pandora’s box and the key to the play’s battle of morals.
Barnes serves as a portal through which the play expresses human vulnerabilities, flaws and suffering.
Another winning factor for the play is the writing. The dialogue in Butcher is a duet between English and the made-up language of “Lavanian.” Playwright Nicolas Billon came up with the Slavic-sounding language with the help of linguistics professors at the University of Toronto just for the play.
Although most of the Lavanian spoken in the play is translated into English, the scene in which the Butcher is describing one of his crimes in the concentration camps leaves the gory details untranslated. The tactful way the scene was set up gives plenty of room for the audience to get an idea of what he was saying.
Even though the play is about vengeance and hatred, it also showcased chivalry, honour and dignity. Butcher is a well-oiled machine that served thrills and squalls while challenging the audience’s psyche and morale.
Butcher will be showing at Centaur Theatre until Nov. 29. Tickets for students cost $28.