Los Angeles Theater Review: CATCHING THE BUTCHER (Long Beach Playhouse)

by Mia Bonadonna on February 11, 2013

in Theater-Los Angeles

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PROMISING SCRIPT BUTCHERED BY PRODUCTION VALUES

Adam Seidel’s sanguinary dark comedy, Catching the Butcher, is an unlikely and eccentric love story in which a secret and utterly sick relationship develops between Bill, a selectively cruel serial killer, and Nancy, his Stockholm Syndrome affected Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema review of CATCHING THE BUTCHER at Long Beach Playhousevictim. Seidel uses psychological horror to craft a deliciously demented commentary about numbing normalization, the yearning for companionship, and the heartless potential of art for art’s sake. Though the constant stream of intriguing plot twists, slasher-style gore, and grim philosophical questioning are definitely engaging, this poorly-rendered production is a technical train wreck with seriously disruptive staging problems. Under the direction of Chrisanne Blankenship-Billings, this Panndora Productions performance at Long Beach Playhouse suffers from a plethora of stage management blunders, an incompetent tech crew, and terrible lighting.

Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema review of CATCHING THE BUTCHER at Long Beach PlayhouseThe small cast of Catching the Butcher is led by Karen Wray in the role of the capture-bonded and deeply jaded Nancy. During the first act, Wray fails to create the disturbing edge that is obviously demanded by the script through essential desperation and tension-fostering. Wray redeems herself in the second act with a genuinely introspective, graciously divisive, and empowered take on her character. As Wray’s male counterpart, Derek Long is thoroughly entertaining as the velvety-voiced doctor-cum-killer, Bill. Long’s perfect timing, grisly (yet practical) complexity, and psycho candor serve to elevate this production tremendously. In a smaller supporting role, the grounded Rebecca Taylor brings an aura of likable warmth to the stage.

Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema review of CATCHING THE BUTCHER at Long Beach PlayhouseEnjoyable writing and performances aside, this production of Catching the Butcher is a sloppy mess as far as its staging basics are concerned. Blankenship-Billings has a knack for blocking, but she often leaves the audience grasping for continuity in the dark during lengthy and superfluous scene changes set to bad country music. Furthermore, the opening night control booth technician missed numerous light and sound cues. There were so many missed cues, in fact, that the audience could not tell if the play was over or if the booth had, yet again, missed the mark. Lighting and set design by Pete Taylor is carelessly uninspired – it is easy to forgive the aesthetically stunted set given how hard it is to fund a theatrical production (and granted the Studio at Long Beach Playhouse is not the most audience-conducive venue), but the unacceptable lighting is so bad that the audience can barely make out the faces of the actors, even from the front rows.

Catching the Butcher has some undeniably good elements, but ultimately, this play has to get its behind-the-scenes act together to make it stage-ready. This reviewer would have left at intermission had the script not been so fascinating.

Mia Bonadonna's Stage and Cinema review of CATCHING THE BUTCHER at Long Beach Playhouse

 

photos by Pete Taylor and Rebecca Taylor

Catching the Butcher
Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre
scheduled to end on February 24, 2013
for tickets, call 562-494-1014, option 1
or visit Long Beach Playhouse

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