Los Angeles Theater Review: THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO (Road Theatre in North Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on November 14, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

WISCONSIN IN SENSURROUND

What do you get when you mix the styles of Grand Guignol, farce, and situational comedy with the sensibilities of the Coen Brothers (Fargo) and Frederick Knott (playwright of Dial M For Murder and Wait Until Dark)? One would think a bloody, horrific mess, but The Butcher of Baraboo, at the Lankershim Arts Center, is hands-down the most fun you can have in the dead of winter in Wisconsin, even as you’re wondering if a cleaver is going to end up in somebody’s skull (and, yes, there will be blood). The Road Theatre Company is responsible for bringing Marisa Wegrzyn’s black comedy to Los Angeles; it is funny, suspenseful, gripping, dark, and poignant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

We open in the kitchen of Valerie, a butcher in Baraboo, Wisconsin, on the one-year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of her husband (Janet Chamberlin is masterful at creating suspense – we feel it every time she kicks her moaning refrigerator or touches her beloved cleaver). The butcher’s uneasy day will only get worse when she discovers that her live-in daughter Midge, a Walgreen’s pharmacist, is selling drugs to school students (Nina Sallinen manages to make us love Midge even as her moral conduct has us wincing). Valerie’s brother-in-law Donal (Carl J. Johnson, with a mid-west folksiness) has moved in next door, along with his six kids and wife Sevenly (Jenny Kern, in a heartbreaking performance). A local cop, Gail, happens to be Valerie’s sister-in-law, and keeps showing up, even though the family makes her crazy (as Gail, Rebecca Jordan has a moment involving methamphetamines and Count Chocula that is at once terrifying, shocking and hysterical). The blend of perfect casting and well-constructed, idiosyncratic characters will have you wondering if you know these people personally.

Jeff McLaughlin’s set is a masterpiece; not only is the detail thrilling (stained wallpaper, chipped early-American furniture, tacky decorative plates), but there is a working sink and coffee maker. Plus, the theatre goes cold every time the kitchen door opens to the elements! Christie Wright’s lighting evokes that icy Wisconsin winter, and Mary Jane Miller’s costumes are superb – you may never have met these characters before, but you KNOW that’s what they would be wearing.

Credit director Mark St. Amant with amassing this team of professionals. Amant manages to keep the characters quirky and threatening without losing authenticity. We sense the love between relatives, even as they lie, cheat, and threaten each other. Although The Butcher of Baraboo has a somewhat weak ending, you will always remember this play; don’t be surprised if you find yourself staring warily at the implements in your own mother’s kitchen – the ones that could be transformed into murder weapons with just one button-pushing “you betcha.”

photos by Chris Goss

The Butcher of Baraboo
Road Theatre Company
Lankershim Arts Center
5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood
scheduled to close on December 19, 2010
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit www.RoadTheatre.org

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THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO by Marisa Wegrzyn – The Road Theatre Company at the Lankershim Arts Center – Los Angeles (North Hollywood) Theater Review

GRAND GUIGNOL IN MINNESOTA

What do you get when you mix the styles of Grand Guignol, farce, and situational comedy with the sensibilities of the Coen Brothers (FARGO) and Frederick Knott (playwright of DIAL M FOR MURDER and WAIT UNTIL DARK)? One would think a bloody, horrific mess, but THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO at the Lankershim Arts Center is hands-down the most fun you can have in the dead of winter in Minnesota, even as you’re wondering if a cleaver is going to end up in somebody’s skull (and, yes, there will be blood). The Road Theatre Company is responsible for bringing Marisa Wegrzyn’s black comedy to Los Angeles; it is funny, suspenseful, gripping, dark, and poignant. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

We open in the kitchen of Valerie, a butcher in Baraboo, Minnesota, on the one-year anniversary of the mysterious disappearance of her husband (Janet Chamberlin is masterful at creating suspense – we feel it every time she kicks her moaning refrigerator or touches her beloved cleaver). The butcher’s uneasy day will only get worse when she discovers that her live-in daughter Midge, a Walgreen’s pharmacist, is selling drugs to school students (Nina Sallinen manages to make us love Midge even as her moral conduct has us wincing). Valerie’s brother-in-law Donal (Carl J. Johnson, with a mid-west folksiness) has moved in next door, along with his six kids and wife Sevenly (Jenny Kern, in a heartbreaking performance). A local cop, Gail, happens to be Valerie’s sister-in-law, and keeps showing up, even though the family makes her crazy (as Gail, Rebecca Jordan has a moment involving methamphetamines and Count Chocula that is at once terrifying, shocking and hysterical). The blend of perfect casting and well-constructed, idiosyncratic characters will have you wondering if you know these people personally.

Jeff McLaughlin’s set is a masterpiece; not only is the detail thrilling (stained wallpaper, chipped early-American furniture, tacky decorative plates), but there is a working sink and coffee maker. Plus, the theatre goes cold every time the kitchen door opens to the elements! Christie Wright’s lighting evokes that icy Minnesota winter, and Mary Jane Miller’s costumes are superb – you may never have met these characters before, but you KNOW that’s what they would be wearing.

Credit director Mark St. Amant with amassing this team of professionals. Amant manages to keep the characters quirky and threatening without losing authenticity. We sense the love between relatives, even as they lie, cheat, and threaten each other. Although THE BUTCHER OF BARABOO has a somewhat weak ending, you will always remember this play; don’t be surprised if you find yourself staring warily at the implements in your own mother’s kitchen – the ones that could be transformed into murder weapons with just one button-pushing “you betcha.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Howard Borde November 14, 2010 at 7:54 am

Nice review and good writing style, Tony. Thanks.

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