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Theater Notes: A must-see world premiere

By Staff | Mar 10, 2015

Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples has given us a powerful, riveting drama that all serious theater-lovers must go see. The play is “The Butcher.” It is a world premiere of a play that is so good that I suspect it will be picked up by every major regional theater company in the country, much like “Clybourne Park,” another brave play tackling highly dangerous topics had done.

Kristen Coury, the producing artistic director for Gulfshore Playhouse, directed “The Butcher.” I have raved about her work in the past, but this serious and brave play may well be her outstanding triumph, so far. She has cast it exquisitely with the help of Michael Cassara, CSA, her casting director in his sixth year with Gulfshore Playhouse. The five equity actors dig deep into their roles and deliver us a brilliant ensemble performance. They just couldn’t have been better, and the stage lights up with what they force us to look at.

There are two married couples in the play. One couple are devout Muslims. The husband runs the Super Halal Meat Market in a small neighborhood in Springfield, Virginia. The other couple are ultra-Jesus Christians. The husband is a car dealer in a nearby town and frequently asks his customers to kneel down and pray when a deal is closed. The men are devout. There are problems with their wives.

So what are we serious theater-goers forced to look at? Well, prejudice is one thing. Our own prejudice. Racism is another. Privilege is a third. And to make the play even more riveting, a pivotal character in the narrative is a Jewish-born newspaper reporter, now a committed atheist, but never forgetting her roots. One of my favorite scenes finds Deborah Neifeld, so ably played by Daneille Skraastad, delivering a lecture on what a reporter has seen, to a conference of humanistic psychologists. She reminds the attendees what the DSM, that holy bible for psychologists, says about “Delusion Disorders.” Wryly she tells them exceptions are made for religious delusions.

And hanging over the plot is our fear of terrorism, not overseas but right here.

The play is totally gripping. It’s done without an intermission. I would have hated it done with an interruption. I was haunted with what the playwright Gwydion Suilebhan wove to enthrall us. It was like being trapped into a page-turner novel that you just to have to finish even if your alarm is set to 7 a.m.

Director Coury drives the play furiously forward. Her production values reflect the pro she is. Evan Middlesworth, the sound director, creates a sixth character in the play, I swear. Thunderous music end scenes, and more loud music take us like a steam locomotive right into the next. It is most effective. You’ll hear it when you come.

The set by David L. Arsenault, lighting by David M. Upton and costumes by Jennifer Bronsted, are all worthy of the best regional theaters in the country.

But when all is said and done, it is the play by Gwydion Suilebhan and the direction by Kristen Coury that moved me so deeply. There are no right answers here. But the discussions on the way home and late into the week following will say a lot about you and how much you love real theater. This comment by the playwright in the playbill said a lot to me.

“I wrote this play to try to help us all worry less about the ‘right’ interpretation and more about listening to different perspectives- not only about the story, but about the country we’re all sharing. We are living, I’m sure you’ll agree, in such radically polarized times, and I find them (as many of us do) a bit terrifying. I want us all to find the better angels of our nature and learn to just listen and connect.”

Can you sense what a treat it will be to go see this play? If I’ve steered you right in the past, trust me on my urging you to go see this must-see, “The Butcher.” Hurry. Get to the phone or the internet and get your tickets. It only runs until March 22. The box office is at (866) 811-4111, or visit gulfshoreplayhouse.org.

If you went to it and didn’t like it, email me and tell me why: compdr1@juno.com.

Ah, and if you cherished it as much as I did, I’d love an email, too